Jessica Lawlor (right) and her friends have a good time using Zoom to communicate during “Happy Hour.”

by Len Lear

Do you miss meeting your friends and co-workers for some food and drink at your favorite local bar or restaurant for an after-work “happy hour?”

Well, do not despair. You can actually still do so while keeping your social distance, seeing friendly faces and feeling like you’re not alone during this incredibly stressful national pandemic.

According to an article last month in the New York Times, the phenomenon of the “virtual happy hour,” while not new, has become much more commonplace since the coronavirus outbreak, for obvious reasons.

For example, Chestnut Hill resident Jessica Lawlor, 32, owner of Jessica Lawlor & Company (JL&Co for short, the “go-to agency for content management”), told us she started the practice last week.

“I first got the idea to host a virtual happy hour of my own as I sat on my couch on Sunday, March 15, feeling a bit anxious and uncertain about the week ahead. That was the first week this all really went into effect and many started working from home,” she said. “As a business owner who works from home already, I’m used to working remotely, but because of that, I also meticulously schedule time out of my apartment during the day and social outings in the evening to stay sane.”

So Lawlor decided to find some friends to try it out.

“I have a group of three friends I met online who also run digital businesses,” she said. “Months ago we set up a group chat through an app called Voxer to stay connected and talk casually throughout the day as if we were chatting around a real watercooler in an office. This group has been incredible for my business and my sanity.

“I messaged them Sunday evening and said, ‘Do you guys want to do a virtual happy hour one day this week? Even though I work from home every day already, I’m feeling like this week is going to be a lot tougher.’ Everyone eagerly agreed. They seemed excited about it! We decided to use Zoom, the tool that many are using now to communicate with friends and family.”

Since social distancing began, Lawlor has participated in several virtual happy hours. The first one consisted of four business friends. She has also done video chats with her family (mom, dad, sister, sister’s boyfriend, brother and fiance) and the family pup, Buddy, as well as a few chats with Jessica’s fiancé Tim’s parents. Jessica and Tim have even had a virtual double date with two friends.

Temple University has moved to online learning for the remainder of the semester, and Jessica has been teaching an undergraduate public relations writing course there though Zoom with 11 students.

For a happy hour, Jessica said she prefers a glass of wine or a margarita.

“I haven’t eaten during any of them, but I could see myself doing a virtual dinner with friends or family in the future,” she said. “For me, sadly, nothing will replace real life interactions and the ability to hug the ones I love the most, but a virtual happy hour does come pretty close.”

Lawlor said she’s been happy to have Zoom, the suddenly popular app that has helped people do everything from chat with family and friends to host virtual business meetings.

“Zoom is a very cool tool, and I’m grateful it exists and allows us to still be able to communicate ‘face to face,’” she said. “I love being able to see everyone at once through the grid view. You can still see everyone’s facial expressions and reactions, which gives the sense that we’re all together, even though we’re not.”

Is there ever a problem with more than one person trying to talk at the same time?

“Zoom creates a yellow outline around a person who is speaking. This is a great visual cue that someone is speaking, so it minimizes talking over one another. However, there is definitely a bit of talking over one another, which I guess is natural when you aren’t in person. This especially happens when talking with my very chatty family who tend to talk over one another when we’re all in one room anyway. I’m sure others can relate.”

A native of Cheltenham, Lawlor spent six years climbing the ranks in corporate public relations positions after studying the subject at Temple University. She first worked in healthcare and later in travel, doing public relations, but she eventually went into business for herself and also taught yoga until the end of last year. Past clients included Pennsbury Manor, Crossing Vineyards & Winery, The Mercer Museum, Houwzer and Outer Banks Forever.

“I actually don’t offer PR as a service anymore,” she said, “as my business shifted to focus solely on content management at the beginning of 2020. My current content management clients include Muck Rack, The Write Life and PodReacher.”

Jessica and Tim, who will be getting married in November, wanted to mention that they are also “enjoying delicious takeout meals from Chestnut Hill businesses including Chestnut Hill Brewing Company, Thai Kuu and El Poquito (before they made the decision to close until further notice).”
For more information, visit https://jessicalawlor.com.

Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com

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