Remote work, virtual celebrations, drive-thru parties, shopping on demand

I still have confidence (and hope) that a bunch of kids will show up at my door later this month for candy, so I’m thoughtfully preparing how best to ensure a safe Halloween. But I’m also recognizing that my family will not likely gather for a traditional Thanksgiving meal together this year, and I’m not too confident about Christmas or New Year’s Day, either. The upending of beloved traditions – and the resulting need to imagine new traditions – is starting to be an almost daily bit of reflection. It is exhausting but essential work, I am thinking, for our companies and colleagues, for our families and friends.

A smattering of the most recent reminders that we all need to rethink the timeline and trajectory of life in the coming year: ‘July is the new January,’ news that many office workers are being told not to head back into offices until at least mid-next year; I got invitations to a drive-thru baby shower and two virtual fundraisers for next week; this week I read the news that super-shopping day ‘Black Friday’ (OK, a horrible tradition) is being replaced by a series of deal-days spread over the next three months that the major retailers seem to have agreed to coordinate  – thank you Amazon, Best Buy, Target and Walmart for giving me these dates to look forward to spending with you.

To be clear, I’m not feeling sorry for myself: The scores of people whose celebrations and plans have been dashed is long, with much more compelling stories than mine. What I am spending time thinking about is the likelihood that so many traditions might not come back. Maybe some of them were tired and ready to sunset anyway (the slow and sad demise of Columbus Day comes to mind; so, too, does the notion that not every nonprofit I support has to do a gala). But the loss of some shared experiences really do need to be mourned: the gatherings to say goodbye to loved ones, the happy hours to honor colleagues retiring or – worse – being laid off. Even as we all pledge today that we can’t wait for those kinds of gatherings to return, the reality is that we are evolving to do things differently. I could get on a plane and go across the country for the memorial to a fallen friend – or I could send a heartfelt note, a financial contribution to a memorial and an offer to ‘Zoom soon.’ As we come out of this pandemic (please let us come out of this pandemic), which practices, expenditures and habits will return ‘to normal’? Which will be replaced by new normal as we strive to be in community with other human beings?

Watching news of the real estate market is a powerful example. People abandoning the idea of living in the urban core – in cities across the country – to get out where there is space and safety in nature, has turned valuations of some properties on their heads. Those are decisions that have consequences for years. The improvements to home entertainment systems and outdoor kitchens that have been underway since March is another trend with a potentially long tail: Once you’ve made those investments to your space, will you be paying premium prices to go to movie theaters, sporting events, even restaurants the way you used to go?

In our work settings, I suspect we are more optimistic than realistic about how bringing everyone back together will impact our company cultures. Even the most progressive workplaces have vestiges of the old notions that people who put in the time are the real contributors. How does it work when you really don’t ‘see’ how people are spending their time? Lots of innovation ahead on how we think about teams, reward systems and incentives.

Earlier this year I said this in a post: “we are all living through a massive social experiment and we will be learning many lessons along the way.” Coming to view the experience as opportunity for new traditions, new ways to be connected to each other, is going to be critically important to our capacity to emerge from this time feeling energized, not exhausted; seeing opportunity, not loss; enthusiastic about the future and fearless about our potential. Here’s to new traditions!

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