All of the major new outlets and many of the smaller publications are telling a version of the same story. It’s the end of the world as we know it; and then they take their spin on why things have changed. In some cases change may be long over due. If you would have told me back in December how swiftly things would change and that a large portion of the world would be social distancing, I would have told you two things…one you are crazy, and two stop making up such phrases. And yes, I am paraphrasing REM in my title. I love that song.
None the less we are here and it does not hurt to look at what has changed and look at what “normal” will look like as quarantines and stay at home orders begin to relax. Among the people I know, the first thing that comes to mind is that even when we start to reopen the economy people are not likely to rush out in droves to be in mass gatherings. The idea of being packed into small spaces with hundreds of people will give us pause, at least for awhile. That can be bad for sporting venues and concerts whose profits rely on getting as many people in the seats as possible.
Another shift I see happening in many work places is a reevaluation of how we work and where we work from. In my job most of the staff got one day a week to work from home and that was grudging given. In early January, it was announced that we would be given 2 days a week (non consecutive) and there was much rejoicing to be had. One less day of traffic, YEA!!!!
Then March came; I was working my normal schedule, still enjoying the fact that I did not have to drive in the crazy traffic that comes with going to the city. I get an email, “until further notice don’t come back to the office, everyone must work from home.” Just the week before we were told no need to worry things will keep going on the same just like always. The shift in thinking was so swift it could give a person whiplash. My favorite part was when one manager said “my people have been on full time telework for two years and just come into the office for major meeting. I told you all that you should have been doing this all along.” Oh mommy and daddy are fighting in front of the kids.
But the manager had a point, we could do much of our work remotely and the organization has collaboration tool that have been available for a long time but few were using. I see the rise of collaboration digitally and working from home being the new normal for office workers like myself for some time to come. Plus companies can defer some of the costs associated with employees. Less office space, less overhead costs like lighting, heating/cooling/, office furniture, the list goes on. Employers will start to look at how work gets done and where it gets done in my opinion.
One of the most startling articles I read was about the education system and how kids from various backgrounds are faring with mass school closures. If you don’t know that the American school system is a mess you either don’t live here or you live under a rock. But as bad as some schools are they are better than none at all. Schools provide millions of free meals to children who may not otherwise have food, it gives kids a place to go and have structure in their day, and can be safety net is so many ways.
Now schools are closed and the disparity between low income families and middle income and up is more apparent than ever. In many places the overly simple decision was made to just have kids do school online. I was all for that, I did all my college on line and I loved it. But many children do not have access to a computer at home, or if they do internet is not available. I know several people who only have the computer that they use to work from home. Now the parents have to either get computers for kids or find a way to let the kids use the computer meant for work and still get work done. How does that happen….not well actually.
Kids in danger of dropping out of school have now been pushed over the edge and are not getting an education. When this thing ends they may never come back to school and get the education they need to rise out of the impoverished circumstances they are in. Our school system is one area were we need to make it the end of that world as we know it and make it better. Our new normal needs to support education and teachers. We give far to little funding to this vital service.
What should out new normal be? What do we want back and what should we change given the chance? I can only answer that for me. But it will be interesting to see how the world embraces a new normal.