Downtown Seattle Association CEO Sees Tech Holding Us Together as Pandemic Keeps Us Apart

Posted on

Jon Family

This article was originally published by GeekWire on Sunday, April 19.

While some point to past pandemics as driving people apart, thanks to technology, Jon Scholes sees the novel coronavirus pulling us together in unexpected ways.

Through video calls that serve as an essential work-from-home tool and that are being used by friends and family for virtual happy hours and game nights, we’re letting others into our homes. We’re revealing some messy housekeeping, less-than-professional attire and unscripted cameos by kids and pets.

“The role of technology in keeping people connected and allowing this display of vulnerability between individuals will be powerful in how we emerge from this,” said the president and CEO of the Downtown Seattle Association (DSA). “You’re seeing real people in real life.”

In data compiled from various sources, the DSA reported Friday that at least 45,000 jobs around downtown Seattle have been lost since March 1. Downtown hotel revenues and Seattle restaurant sales are down around 80% compared to last year.

“The issue for us is what does the comeback look like and how quickly do we bounce back,” Scholes said.

His prognosis: “This is going to be a long, slow climb out.”

That said, he can think of lots of reasons to be hopeful for the region. Scholes points to the innovation and creativity that’s helped keep businesses and nonprofits afloat as they’ve moved services online and shifted to take-out and delivery-based shopping. He sees regulators quickly scrapping and altering rules that were hobbling businesses. He’s excited by the “unprecedented cooperation between the private and public sector” that he wants to see applied to persistent homelessness, housing affordability and transportation issues.

“I hope we can attack some of the challenges that seemed insurmountable with the same urgency and collaboration,” Scholes said.

We caught up with Scholes for this Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.

Current location: Downtown Seattle (of course), at 7th Avenue and Olive Way

Computer types: A 13-inch Macbook Pro and a Lenovo ThinkPad at the office

Mobile devices: iPhone 11 Pro Max, iPad Pro

Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: Dropbox, KEXP, Wunderlist, Google Docs, Zoom, Alaska Airlines App, Sonos, SmartThings

Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? My current workspace is my kitchen table at our cabin in Roslyn and kitchen island at our condo in downtown Seattle. I’m doing my best to make it work while my kids are doing school online, my wife is doing telemedicine and our new labradoodle puppy is doing things that puppies do.

Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? Take care of your whole self. Do what only you can do to maximize your value and impact. Don’t major in the minor things.

Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? Instagram. I use it to share photos and images that inspire me and that I hope move others. Love the stories function. I use LinkedIn to share the work of DSA and provide perspective on issues impacting the city.

Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? Too many in this new virtual work from home, lots of communication by email. Too many!

Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? 50

How do you run meetings? In this period of COVID-19, we start our daily senior leadership team meetings by sharing what we’re grateful for. We do a mental health check-in at the beginning of each week. We discuss what we’re hearing from our stakeholders. We are clear about whether an item is on the agenda to discuss, to plan or to decide. We leave every meeting with clear action items and a follow up email summary. We embrace humor and vulnerability.

Everyday work uniform? Currently a variety of athleisure tops and bottoms. Mostly Lululemon. The benefits of work from home life. I wish Zoom had virtual outfits like they have virtual backgrounds (and virtual hair styles as I get further and further from my regular grooming schedule).

How do you make time for family? I aim to be home most nights for dinner (it helps living across the street from the office). I significantly limit weekend work events and say “no” to those a lot. We’re fortunate to be able to spend many weekends away as a family in Roslyn. Outdoor activities are important in our life and in how we spend time together as a family and with friends (ski, golf and mountain bike).

Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? I unplug by going out to hear live music at one of Seattle’s great venues. Usually the Showbox Market, Tractor Tavern or Neumos. Also by getting outside and on the other side of the mountains to see a little more sun and smell the pine trees. Watching sports are another way I unplug and sure miss live sports right now. Especially the start of baseball, March Madness and The Masters.

What are you listening to? A lot of John Prine lately following his tragic passing. Rahm Emanuel’s podcast from his event in March hosted by Crosscut that I missed due to the Coronavirus. Greg Vandy’s Wednesday night show (The Roadhouse) on KEXP, which recently included a spectacular tribute to John Prine.

Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? GeekWire (always been impressed with the variety of coverage and depth), Seattle Times, San Francisco Chronicle, New York Times, The Economist Newsletter, City Lab, International Downtown Association Newsletter.

Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? I haven’t read a book front to back in just about 20 years. I used to be embarrassed to say that, but read once that a certain University of Washington president isn’t a big reader of books either, so thought it was safe for me to confess, too. I prefer long-form articles and podcasts. I’ll start a book (always nonfiction) with good intentions, but quickly get curious about something else once I feel like I’ve gotten the main point.

Night owl or early riser? Unfortunately both, many nights. Usually sleep from 11:30 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. Then it catches up with me at the end of the week. I feel like I do my best thinking late at night, usually with some great tunes playing (maybe with a great whiskey). And I like being up early (especially in the summer). Six hours of sleep most nights, but then, like I said, it catches up with me.

Where do you get your best ideas? From peers around the country running downtown organizations. From our team. From our stakeholders. From staying curious always. From being challenged and pushed.

Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? Those people that don’t use email (or put significant restrictions on it) and those that are very disciplined about creating time for deep thinking and deep work. The views of Greg McKeown in his book “Essentialism” come to mind (I listened to the book).