There’s been a lot of talk about getting back to normal. And plenty of folks saying it will be a new normal.
Remember when everyone was talking about how the coronavirus forced them to slow down and spend time with their family? That maybe “normal” wasn’t so great?
We’ve been developing our new normal for months now since this pandemic went on way longer than most of us were thinking in the beginning. But now, with quite a few folks fully vaccinated, normal is starting to feel within reach.
So, what will normal look like moving forward?
Does normal mean I have to start putting make-up on again? Do I have to drive to the office every day? Do I have to wear heels?
Will all the remote workers go back to the office? Will the hand sanitizer stations at the office — and everywhere else — ever go away? Will we gather to burn our masks in a great corona bonfire celebration?
Plenty of folks returned to offices after the spring shutdowns last year. But plenty of others realized sometimes it’s a lot easier to get work done from home. In fact, when I go into the office, it’s much more difficult to meet with co-workers, most of whom are working from home. I fire up my Surface and appear as a silhouette accompanied by a whirring sound I’m told is reminiscent of a fan or waterfall. In short, no one can clearly hear me or see me. Then I skip lunch because I didn’t think I’d be at the office that long, and the kitchen is not a few steps away.
No, even a year from now, I bet the remote work force will still be strong, even if some commute to the office on occasion. There may be an increasing demand for flex workspace, where no one has a designated office or cubicle, just a station where they can go into the office if they need. That’s an idea that has been around for years in some companies, but may be in more and more demand. Meanwhile, any gatherings of a staff may be more about team-building and social interaction, a brainstorming session over lunch, for example.
And on days like Friday, sunny and 75, you will not find me in my corner office on Green Street. I’ll be sitting on my deck with my laptop enjoying the fresh air and sunshine like I did last spring.
When I do go in the office, those hand sanitizer bottles will probably still be sitting there. But then again, once something is put in a newsroom, there’s a strong likelihood that it will still be there a decade from now. Journalists are packrats. There are things in drawers inside that newsroom that no one currently working there knows a thing about.
The plexiglass screens at receptionist counters like ours and every other customer-facing business might be here to stay, too. I do find myself subconsciously trying to skirt around them to have a conversation, though.
I’ve been wearing my mask whenever I go out, and I do hope I can stop eventually. But I’ll be packing them away in storage, not burning them. Many of us weren’t prepared for a crisis like this one, and I don’t want to get caught off guard. We might develop habits just like the generations before us, who lived through the Depression and learned to be extra thrifty, never throwing anything away that still had some use. I’m not saying I’ll be saving plastic Betty Crocker tubs like my Nana, but I might keep bottled water and canned goods next to the face masks in storage.
There’s a lot from this pandemic that will linger, for better and worse.
We learned we can all be more flexible than we realized, whether in how we work or shop or educate our kids. We also learned some of those options are in fact not ideal. Shopping online, yes, educating first graders online, not so much.
There will likely soon be studies on the lingering effects of this mess on our psyche, and I’m really curious how it will continue to define our youngest generation, who have grown accustomed to masks and using laptops to learn and so much limitation where before there was freedom. I hope they will have learned the lessons of those previous generations that came together to overcome, even if some of those lessons were from the mistakes of older generations who divided instead.
Another thing I wonder, is if the Roaring 1920s were a result of the Spanish Flu of 1918. There’s a part of me that wants to throw a giant party after I get fully vaccinated.
Here’s to normal and hopes that whatever it looks like is better than the past year.
Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a North Hall resident.