Note: The Omicron variant had not yet emerged when I originally reached out to this group, and while I don’t think their answers would have changed dramatically if asked today, it does influence your perspective as a reader.
In Part 1 of this three part series, I shared responses from more than 400 people in the communications field when asked what they thought would remain in the workplace as a result of the pandemic. Responses ranged from flexible hours and remote working to a more intentional use of time.
Part 2 explores how people’s personal lives have changed in a more permanent and often, poignant, way.
One such example came from Shayna Chabner, Chief Communications Officer, Caltech: “Every morning as I walk out of the house with my kids (ages 2.5, 5, and 7) to get them to school, one of the last things I ask/we check is ‘Do you have a mask?’. One recent morning as my 7-year-old daughter and I loaded up into the car, she posed a simple question: ‘Mommy, can you imagine the day when you won’t have to ask me if I remembered to grab my mask?’ What struck me most was that I can’t actually imagine that day and while she has memories of times before COVID, they will likely not be with her long term.”
Many people admitted to “having masks everywhere” as Joan Wainwright, Board Member, NJM Insurance and Electrocomponents plc., did. “I never know when and where they are needed, so I have them everywhere.”
Tracie Potts, Executive Director, Eisenhower Institute, Gettysburg College pointed out one upside of masking: “Before Covid I would catch at least three colds a year. Since Covid… NONE. I’m convinced that masks and social distancing have improved my resistance to germs.”
Following naturally from masking, Nick Ashooh, Senior Director, Corporate & Executive Communications, APCO Worldwide, spoke for a lot of people (including me) when he said: “I’m no longer comfortable in big crowds and vastly prefer outdoor activities. I think those things have long-term implications, too.”
Monica Talan of AT&T felt similarly, “I wear a face covering when I go to places with large crowds. I’m selective on going out — and have yet to go to a large indoor event…and I don’t see this changing any time soon.”
Roger Bolton, President, Page Society, agrees wholeheartedly saying: “I attended a conference recently where few wore masks, and I was uncomfortable throughout. I wore a mask most of the time and found myself stepping back from people who moved in too close during conversations.”
Many of those who responded talked about being much more conscious of how often and how long they wash their hands, and germs generally — from cash to goods in stores to homelife. Tracy Furey, Head, Global Oncology and Americas Communications and Engagement, Novartis, commented: “I was never a germ freak, but I am now. I think about how many hands touch money, grocery cart handles, clothing stacked up at Target, etc…And shoes in the house! Never again.”
Charlene Wheeless, Executive Coach, is a little more extreme: “I became a little paranoid about putting my fingers into creams, etc so I started using gloves when I wash my face and go through my morning and evening routine.”
A renewed focus on family was a universal response with differences only in how it manifests. Joe Cohen, Chief Marketing & Communications Officer, AXIS, said: “Before the pandemic, our family typically relied on take-out or went to restaurants, and we literally had used our oven only a handful of times. We now cook or bake nearly every day, feel healthier, and have created wonderful family memories.”
Christina Twomey, Global Head of Communications, S&P Global Ratings, noted that she has “found unexpected joy in the smaller, simpler parts of life, too, and a newfound sense of appreciation for what I have today…I’m clearer in what and who matters and the precious (unpromised) gift of time.”
For Joanne Bischmann, Retired, Chief Communication Officer, Harley-Davidson, Inc., COVID shined a bright light on something she already knew, “I check on my elderly parents more often — the pandemic highlighted to me that even though they are healthy and capable, I need to be more conscious of the frailty of life and the blessing of having them close by.”
Betty Hudson, former National Geographic Society CCO, voiced a trend that has woven its way into many of our lives, the variety and quality of content on television/streaming services “What we formerly thought to be kind of exotic — what with subtitles, accents, and different cultures — was not regularly contemplated when trying to decide ‘what to watch tonight’ is now very much in our standard viewing mix. And we swap recommendations with everyone we know.” This “swapping” happens in meetings, with friends, and in casual conversation and definitely does not seem to be abating any time soon.
For most, exercise in whatever form has become a must — be it for physical or mental health reasons or both. One person noted that what was typically a diligence about fitness, has evolved into a “must” saying, “if something for work came up, I might miss a workout. Not anymore.”
Getting outside seems to be a priority for a lot of us. Johanna Schneider, Former Executive Director, Business Roundtable, said that for her, nature offers “mental clarity and equilibrium,” calling it both a “salve and a balm.”
Susan Robinson King, Dean, UNC Hussman School of Journalism & Media, clearly agrees: “I’m walking. And walking. Trying to get out mid-day from the computer and the zooms and the emails to hear my own thoughts and walk the quad. I find walking — stopping — hearing my own thoughts something more than a gift. A walk is the necessity in the frantic world that we are returning to and a hedge against a full return, a desire to feel my own pulse.”
Others, like Lisa Borders, Co-Founder & CEO, Golden Glow Media, took COVID-19 as a [signal] to make much more [systemic] changes: “The pandemic was — and is — a wake-up call…it’s abundantly clear now that health is our greatest wealth. So I’ve eliminated corrosive elements from my body’s intake and exposure such as salt, sugar, soda, stress and a sedentary lifestyle. My new approach is deliberate…My body now craves the new behaviors and my mind is at peace.”
The above, however, only starts to touch on the underlying and ongoing sense of uncertainty and the frailty of life that remains in the hearts and minds of many who answered.
“The pandemic robbed us of the spontaneous and surprising experiences that make our lives full, leaving behind a smaller world of sameness — our homes, our Zoom calls, our tasks in masks. As we open back to our fuller world of unpredictable possibilities, my focus is sharper and my actions more judicious about how to live…Make to-do lists not just about the chores that need doing, but around the empowering priorities that lead to more happiness,” said Ben Feller, Partner at Mercury, a global strategy firm.
David Demarest, Lecturer in Management, Stanford University, echoed the thought: “Covid showed just how precarious life can be…how unprepared we are when there are disruptions of activities, practices, lifestyles, etc. — disruptions that forced us to adapt and adapt quickly.”
“Covid only amplifies that feeling that you may regret what you once took for granted … from fundamental things like the robustness of our health, to everyday things like our EASE and FREEDOM to travel, to kiss & hug, to shake strangers’ hands, or to buy mundane but essential things,” noted Sandra Macleod, CEO, Echo Research. “So given how quickly and strangely [these] freedoms vanished (even if for good reason)…the UNEASE of what else might happen or change suddenly again, overnight and randomly, remains.”
Monica, summed up what seems like a collective sentiment, especially for those who are vaccinated: “A friend recently said to me, ‘I am not afraid of COVID, I respect COVID,’ and that’s me.I will continue to take the precautions necessary as I know that the vaccine does not mean I won’t get it or spread it to others.”
Coming soon: Part 3 -–- the lasting impact on society as a result of COVID-19.