INSIDERS 53 Hours and 5 Airports: What I Learned Getting Home During a...

53 Hours and 5 Airports: What I Learned Getting Home During a Pandemic


Sarah Foster
Sarah Foster
President and Senior Seed Analyst, 20/20 Seed Labs - Sarah Foster is a registered seed technologist, senior seed analyst and president of 20/20 Seed Labs — a company she started in 1989 that provides testing services for all crop kinds, including extensive quality and seed health analysis, molecular testing and accredited crop inspection. Involved in the seed industry since the late 1970s, Foster studied and qualified as an accredited seed analyst at the National Institute of Agricultural Botany in Cambridge, England. Her work experience includes seven years with Sharps Seed International (Advanta) in the United Kingdom, and five years with the United Grain Growers in Edmonton after immigrating to Canada in 1984.

It was only a handful of weeks ago that I found myself and some staff members trying to get out of South America as the coronavirus was spreading to the Western Hemisphere.

We had gone to Chile in January as we do every year to do analyses for seed businesses who operate there and depend on us. Prior to our arrival, we knew about the coronavirus, but it had yet to really affect anyone in North and South America. We had some concerns about going, but did so anyway, always keeping a close eye on what was going on with coronavirus around the world. And I’m glad we did.

We are all safely back home in Canada now, and have completed the two-week quarantine. After carefully monitoring the situation around the world, and Chile’s response, we decided we needed to leave while we could, even though our job was not complete. Through five airports and after 53 hours of travel we made it home just as the pandemic began its sweep of this half of the globe. To say I learned some important personal and professional lessons is an understatement.

As a business owner, I had to act responsibly. The wellbeing of my staff both in Chile and at home in Canada was top priority. We immediately convened over the phone and implemented mandatory social distancing and personal health measures for our offices. We separated our staff — no one used the lunchroom, ate together or worked too closely together. This was prior to the mass implementation of social distancing measures Canada-wide. And of course, our Chile team immediately headed home.

The wellbeing of my staff both in Chile and at home in Canada was top priority.

Everyone reacts differently to stress. Fear is a powerful emotion. No two people react the same when they are fearful. Understanding that helps you to navigate a crisis like this, so you can better ensure everyone is kept safe and can function with the quickly imposed changes. At the end of the day, being an essential service, we had to pull together to ensure that the work could get done. And while doing that, that everyone remained healthy — physically and emotionally.

People are our biggest asset. As this pandemic continues to play out, I am learning even more about the importance of a reliable, supportive and flexible work force. No one can do it alone, and a collaborative and caring staff will take care of each other, while keeping the operation going. Doing this has required an immediate change, like some people working from home and others working different shifts to ensure the lab isn’t too crowded while we get our job done.

We won’t be through the COVID-19 crisis for a while, but this experience has shown my staff and I how quickly we can respond and adjust to a crisis situation, remaining positive and productive through it all. Thanks and praise go out to everyone managing through this unprecedented time.