The Lasting Impact of our New Normal


COVID-19 will have lasting impacts on how work and school operate in the United States (Courtesy of Twitter).

Ava Lichter, Contributing Writer

When the coronavirus hit, the entire world was forced to go home and stay there. Schools and offices remained empty for months, and now we are only at the beginning of the journey back to normalcy. Initially, when offices were forced to go remote, there was a lot of concern about whether or not productivity would decrease and if collaboration would be possible without in-person meetings. To most people’s surprise, this, generally, did not turn out to be much of a problem. 

Pretty quickly, referring to our situation as the  “new normal” became common practice. Will the discovery that many people could effectively work from home completely overhaul the way that we think of school and work? On many levels, working from home makes a lot of sense. For years, offices have strived to make the workplace more fun and somewhere that the incoming workforce of millennials would enjoy spending their time. Ping pong tables, bean bag chairs, standing desks and cold brew on tap became the norm. Moving forward, instead of making offices a more appealing place to spend time than home, why not let people spend more time at home? 

For years, the American workforce has been striving for more flexibility in the workday as well as paid time off, sick leave and maternity leave. The way that work operates post-COVID-19 may be the solution. Not having physical office space also benefits companies by cutting real estate costs, especially in places like Manhattan. It could also be helpful for parents, who could work from home and spend more time with their children, helping with the work-life balance. 

There is one place where things get tricky. When people say “new normal,” there is a lot of talk about the idea of working completely remotely and only coming into the office for big meetings or when absolutely necessary. One of the big holes in that version of the future is that new hires would not have the opportunity to network. The creation of a workplace culture is valuable, and there is no replacement for the human connection that results from spending time together face-to-face. Another aspect is that not everyone has a home that is a productive work environment. Many people don’t have a comfortable and safe environment to live in, let alone work from. Recent college graduates living in cramped apartments with roommates or couples in studio apartments might not be in a good position to do all their work from home. Many people simply don’t have a space to work from and need an office to serve that purpose. 

Of course, the amount of remote work that people do will vary depending on the type of company. Different businesses will require more or less in-person collaboration, and the need for in-person work will vary. Jobs that don’t require as much in-person collaboration will likely have higher numbers of employees working from home. Offices will also likely take on a more communal aspect, for instance, not having personal offices to minimize space and accommodate the fact that different employees will be coming in on different days.

Schools are another story entirely. While the workforce might change a lot, I don’t see a future where schools look very different than they were pre-COVID-19. School is not the same without in-person instruction. Teachers, professors and students all benefit from the dynamic of an in-person class structure. It is difficult to control the number of distractions that come with taking a class online. Social media and text messages are all one click away, and no one can regulate it. The only thing that the new normal might change is snow days, which might become obsolete if teachers and students can just hop on a Zoom call. I personally hope that snow days stay — in my mind the joy of an unexpected day off is worth the day of lost classes. 

The biggest and most important result that I anticipate post-COVID-19is more flexibility and more choices in terms of how and when you work. For years, the work-life boundary has been slipping to a point where people find themselves expected to answer emails at all hours of the day or stay at the office way after workday hours on a regular basis. This has been a big fear of mine as someone who expects to enter the workforce in the next couple of years. The idea of having to be available at all times in order to be considered good at my job frightens me. I hope that the new normal means more choices in terms of work boundaries. The choice to wake up late, work from home and finish work later if you want to. The choice to travel and explore new places while working remotely for a couple of weeks. The choice to show up at the office and do all your work from there, if that’s what you want. I don’t think that there will be one version of the new normal. Some people’s lives will irrevocably change in the next year, and for others, the pandemic will be more like a blip in time. I don’t believe there will be a “new normal.” I believe that this once-in-a-century pandemic has made us realize that there never needed to be one homogeneous way of participating in the workforce, and there will likely never be one “normal” way of working ever again.

Ava Lichter, FCRH ’22, is an English major from New York, N.Y.