Author Archives: Michelle

About Michelle

Originally from Boston, I've been living and working in Spain for more than 12 years. In August 2006 I decided to leave behind my life in Boston and take a chance over in sunny Spain with nothing more than determination, a sense of adventure and two big suitcases. 12+ years later I like to think I'm pretty established: I have a Spanish husband, full time job that's 50/50 Spanish/English, two Spanglish kids, recent home (apartment) owner, and I apparently talk in Spanish sometimes in my sleep which is as good of a sign as any of cultural immersion. Currently I work as a Program Director in Executive Education at IESE Business School (where I also did my MBA back in 2010). Prior to that I've had experience in FMCG Brand Marketing and Customer/User Experience Research and Design. These days I keep quite busy as a full-time working mother to two young kids. Although I don't have as much free time as before, I still enjoying meeting new people and sharing experiences and enjoy reflecting upon the differences between life in the US and Spain. Customer Experience as well remains an interest of mine and shows up in a number of my posts. Hope you enjoy my blog!

COVID-19 in Madrid – Lockdown Day 24 – the “new normal”?

It’s been over three weeks now since we’ve been in total quarantine, and realistically, we’re probably looking forward to another 3+ weeks of the same. Fortunately, I have to say that it hasn’t been as crazy (with the kids) as I was assuming at the start. More or less we’ve gotten into a daily routine, although some days seem longer than others. And most importantly, we’re all healthy, which is a lot to say when you watch the news (I try to avoid it in real time; online is easier to digest). This has become my “new normal” these days: home life, home schooling, home.

Screenshot 2020-04-08 at 15.21.29

There is a lot of talk of the “new normal”, speculating various scenarios of the world post COVID-19 crisis. Of course you can look at this from a number of different angles – for example, economically, as the big companies with financial leverage will likely just continue to grow after this. And online is booming. (I say this as I just purchased a fitness mat through Amazon and another Amazon package delivering arts & crafts supplies just arrived. Thank goodness for e-commerce). Here’s an interesting Economist article about this: https://www.economist.com/business/2020/03/26/the-pandemic-shock-will-make-big-powerful-firms-even-mightier

Another angle is related to the government: what role will the government play once all of this is over. In general federal governments are taking on more powerful, imposing roles over local government during this war-like time. Will this continue once COVID passes and what are the repercussions?  Here’s another interesting article about “The new normal” I just read about large-scale global possible changes from McKinsey: https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/strategy-and-corporate-finance/our-insights/the-new-normal

What I find really interesting, apart from these topics, is how this pandemic will change social norms. Once we’re all “released” from quarantine I’m sure there will be a boom of social activity, especially here in Spain where the only way to keep people indoors and from not being social was to add police enforcement (I may be exaggerating slightly, but it is true that Spain is a super social, outdoors kind of place, and that’s one of the reasons why I’m here). I know personally I can’t wait to get out – during the day, at night, you name it. But I wonder how long it will take for everything to really get back to “normal” socially, if that will happen. I remember the first time I had a job interview here and was taken aback by the two-cheek kissing at the start of the meeting. Now, of course, I’m used to this kind of social greeting, but will we lose this in the future? If not, (I don’t think so), how long will it take for us to get back to this state (probably more of my question)? With the boom of online work spaces, apps like House Party and more and more social gatherings remotely, how much of this will stay on as a norm once life goes back to “normal”? Will the new normal still involve virtual hangouts with friends?

On a personal note I hope that in general things go back to how they were before the lockdown for me. It would be great if this led to some positive changes like companies recognizing the value and possibility of employees working more from home.

From my own perspective a few things will likely change:

  • Time with kids. This lockdown has forced us to spend 24-7 with our kids. Despite all the external chaos, this is something I will always look back on with positive memories, my lockdown of waking up and having my morning coffee every day with my son without rushing around and yelling for them to eat breakfast, get dressed, etc. before rushing out to school/work. I’ve also realized they don’t care as much about going outside. Note for the future when I’m getting antsy after work or on the weekends to rush outside with them so they’re not bored at home.
  • Phone and video calls with friends and family. It took a crisis to realize how important and nice it is to take a few minutes to catch up with family and friends. With so much “time on our hands” people have been connecting virtually, but why not do this in general. We’re all busy, but I think taking a few minutes to catch up has a much longer effect than the actual few minutes “that we never have” to connect.
  • Workout routine. I’m an avid runner. Once the lockdown started this has been impossible. So for about 3 weeks now I’ve been hooked on youtube cardio/Hiit/kickboxing workouts that I’ve been doing on my small terrace (sorry neighbors below, but I think they’ll understand). I love them! I’ve forgotten how much I love these type of workouts that I thought I didn’t have time for anymore. Once everything goes back to the norm I’m going to start mixing up my straight out running routine.
  • Future focus. I’m lucky to be taking an online Women and Leadership course that happens to fall exactly during the timing of this lockdown. This course involves a 360 evaluation, a lot of self-reflection and introspection and plans for the future. One thing this lockdown has given me as well is time to think about what I may want to do differently or focus on once it’s over.

These are just a couple thoughts about changes. However, one thing that will not change is I still know that I could never be an elementary school teacher! Or work full-time from home.

What do you think will be the “new normal”? How long will it take to get there?

 

 

 

 

 

COVID-19 -Homeschooling what? A few recommended online resources

There’s a reason why I’m not a teacher. And that’s not going to change. However, during times of crisis we all have to deal with things that take us out of our comfort zone, for example, not being able to leave the house with two little kids…

Honestly there are so many online resources, web pages with information, educational sites for kids, etc. that what is most difficult is to find good ones. Or ones that don’t make you pay before you use anything. At my older son’s school they didn’t send us any work this last week to let other people catch up from previous weeks, and next week is Easter “holiday”, so we won’t have anything either. I’ve been scouring the internet myself to try to find things to print out to put together some sort of homework pack for the week.

Although it’s not a long list, here are a few resources that I’ve used that have been helpful:

1. https://www.verywellfamily.com/best-free-educational-websites-for-kids-3129084 This web has a list of 17 web sites with a mix of educational information, games, etc. So far from what I’ve seen there are a lot of interesting things. Some are a bit too old for my 6 year old, but again there’s a good mix:

2. www.pbskids.org Any American will know PBS from when you were little. My 6 year old loves this site. It has a lot of easy, interactive games for little ones and videos.

3. https://www.education.com/home-learning/?cid=10.177 This site is generally pay, but they are offering a lot of great, free resources now. I’ve printed out a lot of the Independent Study Packs and used the worksheets to put together lessons. They have from pre-school to 5th grade and by subject. There are also a few easy, interactive games and guided lessons

4. https://es.ixl.com/math/infantil This one is in Spanish. It’s full of short, interactive exercises that your kids can do on the computer to practice math and reading. So far I’ve used it for basic math.

My last reco isn’t a web site, but we printed out “Happy meal box templates” that we found online and made homemade happy meals, complete with chicken nuggets, french fries and of course a small toy (make sure you have this before starting). There are tons, but here’s just one example:

And here’s how they came out 🙂

I have to say the kids really loved this one. I would definitely recommend it!

Good luck!

COVID-19 Lockdown Day 12: the kids are alright; it’s the parents who aren’t. Two things keeping my sanity.

Cue The Who: The kids are alright. Lots of talk about the poor kids not being able to play outside and memes with kids escaping or having meltdowns. They’re going to be so upset… the truth is that the kids are quite alright! It’s the parents who are going crazy with this lockdown. I’m the one who’s going to be hitting myself in the head with a toy gun soon.

Maybe it’s just in my case – please I’d love to hear feedback from others – but my two little kids don’t seem to be bothered in the least that they’re home playing all day….in fact I think it’s going to be tough to take them out of the quarantine. School? Wait, what’s that?!

For sure the ones that are going crazy being stuck in the house are the parents. From time to time I silently put on my jacket and sneak out to “the outside” to buy bread at the gas station. I feel like a delinquent.

Two things that are keeping me sane during these times:

  1. Exercise. For years now I’ve been an outdoor runner since that’s really the easiest and fastest form of exercise with little kids. Cut to quarantine – I’m becoming a big fan of Hiit/Cardio videos on Youtube. When you’re given lemons, make lemonade. Some of my favorite channels that I’ve found so far, although really there are endless free ones:
  2. Music. The best way I’ve found to take a little breather and zone out mentally is with music. I’ve always liked music, but there’s something about it these days that helps to have that little bit of mental escape. (you can put on your headphones, turn up the volume and tune out screaming kids :)) The best I’ve found so far is this one: every day from 14-15h (Spain time) Bob Sinclar spins a streaming live awesome mix through his facebook channel. It’s great, if you like that kind of music. I’m still waiting for David Guetta to get into the mix. Definitely open to hearing any other suggestions or channels!
Bob Sinclar live session today

Bob Sinclar live session today

Keep calm. The end is near…

Customer Experience during COVID-19 – more important than ever!

If you’ve followed my blog in the past and/or read some of my past entries you’ll know that Customer Experience is something I’m very passionate about. There are two main reasons for this: 1) I used to work on a research team at Forrester Research dedicated to the importance of Customer Experience and showing the real ($$) benefits of companies taking this seriously, and 2) when I moved to Spain I realized how I had really taken customer experience for granted in the US. Spain had a LONG way to go. Fourteen years later the whole Customer Experience “thing” has definitely gained importance over here, but the customer is still not always the priority. In general in Spain I usually go into “Atención al cliente” calls assuming that they will tell me I’m wrong or being the one to blame. Some companies are better than others, but overall it’s still not a priority. You can find a number of past articles in my blog about my experiences.

One thing I’m pretty clear about: customers don’t easily forget bad experiences! Now, as we’re on the brink of a severe economic crisis that is affecting and paralyzing almost all sectors, it’s the best time for companies to show customers that they care about them and give them something memorable. When the COVID-19 crisis is over and things get back to normal (yes they will), I can guarantee that people would be more than likely to do business again with a company that has treated them well and/or showed them care during the crisis than ones that have put their own priorities first or ignored customers during this time of uncertainty.

A couple of my experiences:

  • Hotels. I had 2 different trips that have completely gone out the window (and 2 possible out the windows) with this crisis. In both of the non-salvageable cases I wrote directly to the hotels that I had reserved to cancel. In one case I paid for a non-refundable weekend stay at a hotel in Barcelona. Given the situation I wrote asking to use the already-paid for weekend at a later date, not trying to get my money back. I was very happy to receive a personal note back a few days later saying that this wouldn’t be a problem. In the future if I have to make another trip I will definitely consider booking with Hotel Balmoral again. In the other case I had a hotel reserved in Marrakech with free cancellation; I’m still waiting for them to get back to me to confirm the change.
  • Airlines. This is a big one. The airline industry is being completely destroyed by this epidemic, and there’s not much that can be done with global travel restrictions. However, again, at some point in the future people will start traveling again and airlines will be back up and running. Although loyalty in the airline industry is pretty much limited to gaining points and not any real loyalty to the brand itself, I’m sure that a customer will be more likely to try to fly with an airline that has treated them well with any reservation cancellations or flight changes during this time than one that has not. I’ve spoken with quite a few friends that had trips that have been cancelled, and they’ve had pretty much a lack of response/clear answers from the airlines. Tomorrow I have to call Iberia to cancel a reservation I made with avios; since it’s not completely cancelling a full-cost flight, but rather one booked with points, it should be easier. Still I’ll be interested to see how they handle the call.
  • Online shopping. This is probably one of the few areas that is having an incredible boost these days. All I have to say is thank goodness for Amazon! We may not be able to leave the house, but I’ve been able to order a number of things to keep the kids entertained, and the delay has been minimum.
  • Also, another great experience with Mizuno (not related to the current crisis, but just a great example of customer experience): I bought some new running shoes a few weeks, a new style from Mizuno, a brand I love. Unfortunately for whatever reason the new style just didn’t work for me – I tried running with them 4 or 5 times, but every time afterwards ended up with pain in my legs. (I’m pretty sure I was straining some muscles that I wasn’t used to using.) Anyway, I contacted Mizuno to ask if I could return the shoes even though I had already used them a few times. Their response wasn’t 100% clear, but I tried anyway. If not it would have been 140€ thrown down the drain. After shipping the shoes back to Mizuno (with a pre-paid return label) I was happy to receive an email less than a week later acknowledging their receipt, apologies that I wasn’t 100% satisfied and telling me that a credit was already being processed to my account.

Now, as soon as I can actually leave the house and go outside to run again the first thing I will do is order new running shoes from Mizuno. They will definitely count on my business in the future.

 

 

Madrid COVID-19 quarantine – Day 7

Spain just announced that the official lockdown has been extended until April 12th. So, in the best-case scenario we’re looking at another 3 full weeks inside until things can potentially get back to “normal”. This isn’t surprising – they announced last night that we can only expect the overall situation to get worse in the coming weeks. Hey, if this is what it takes for things to get better and finally get back to “normal” then it’s what we need to do.

Just to clarify, when I say official lockdown I don’t mean the kind where there are recommendations for social distancing and staying at home to flatten the curve. I’m talking about not being allowed to leave our houses. You can get fined by the police if you’re out on the street without a justifiable reason. No complaints here – while we stay healthy and safe I can’t complain.

And on a positive note my sense of smell/taste is finally starting to come back, slowy but surely!

On another positive note there are so many different entertainment options available online these days it seems the real problem is not having enough free time with the kids around to be able to take advantage. Some cool ones I’ve seen so far have been live concerts that artists are putting on from their homes, like Alejandro Sanz, Chris Martin, Bob Sinclair. Not sure about David Guetta but I’d love to see him. For the kids our house has converted into a 24 hour arts and crafts gallery/lego making station. Hey, whatever works.

At night we’re still continuing with our solidarity applauses and cheers at 8pm from our balcony. For the kids its the moment when they get excited to put on their jackets and shoes and go outside to see all the neighbors and lights. I hope this will continue and keep everyone’s spirits up. I just spoke to some friends in Italy who told me that this has kind of died out over there where they are at least (now they’re already on 2 weeks of quarantine),; hopefully we can keep it up here, at least for the kids’ sake, and as a bit of motivation for all.

I’ll leave with this image, drawings my son put up on our terrace this morning to share with the neighbors. #wecanbeatthis:

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Madrid lockdown -Do I have COVID-19?

After hearing the latest news about common symptoms in COVID-19 cases, I’m  thinking it’s quite likely that I have a mild case of the virus or at least a clear case of some key symptoms.
The virus is so prevalent here I’m not surprised. First there were some cases in my office, and they say it can incubate in your system for weeks. Then my son had a high fever for six days (they say in kids it can manifest as normal “sick” kid symptoms or totally asymptomatic). At the beginning of the lockdown I had one night with fever and chills, but then the next day I felt more or less back to normal. Now for about 4 days I’ve had a bad cough, really dry and annoying, to be quite honest. But the strangest thing, and what I didn’t even think about until this morning, was the other symptom – for the last 3 days I’ve had absolutely no sense of smell or taste. When I mean none I mean like today when I made a bag of popcorn for my kids and couldn’t smell it. At all. It seems like this loss of sense and smell is common in 3/4 of the cases, normally at the end of the infection. Check out this  Forbes article today..

How strange. I’m still not sure if what I have is more of a sinus infection/cold or COVID-19, but it’s eye opening nonetheless.
This morning I called the dedicated number that the community of Madrid has set up for COVID. They asked me four questions – after I answered that I don’t have a fever or any shortness of breath it was over. The answer: stay home, as we’re doing, and just monitor things.
So hopefully this will disappear soon. TBC

 

 

COVID-19 Lockdown in Madrid – Day 4

Another day – check! T- ???

Two important things I learned today:

  1. Cardboard boxes (especially if they’re big) are the solution to everything. Next time we have a birthday or occasion for gifts I’m definitely going to think twice about buying anything

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2. 8pm is now one of our favorite times of the day. It started as a spontaneous moment the first day of the official quarantine at 10pm where everyone went out on their terraces to clap in appreciation of the medical staff and support who are working around the clock to fight this. Now this has turned into a nightly 8pm clapping ritual with kids. After the first day it was announced that the following day at 8pm we would repeat so that kids could join. Now it’s a routine, jackets, shoes and all, to go out on the terrace and join our neighbors in clapping. The kids love it. Today someone in an apartment not too far away started playing what sounded like the drums. I’m looking forward to tomorrow!