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The New Normal Has Arrived

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Lock-ins began for most of us in the Spring of 2020. Pandemics have occurred before, but there hasn’t been anything like this in my lifetime. As COVID-19 infected the world, we dealt with everything from losing loved ones to disruptions in our everyday routines.
 
Throughout all this, there’s been an underlying assumption that it will all be over soon. There’s been a persistent belief that science, nature, or something else would allow us to put this pandemic behind us. Things like restaurants, movies, offices, travel, and more will return to familiarity someday — we just need to wait it out. When this would occur kept pushing-out, but the expectation remained that the pandemic would fade into a distant memory.
 
Some call a post-pandemic future a return to normal, others a new normal. Regardless, they share a vision of a future without COVID-19.
 
Spring 2021 brought some new optimism. With vaccines rolling out, signs of normalcy started to appear. I completed my first air travel in over a year — awkward but successful. Peanuts would have been nice, but the flight attendant instead handed me a bacterial wipe as I boarded the plane. I’ve had a few almost normal trips now.
 
Restaurants also began to fill up again, Disneyland reopened, and many organizations planned office reopening dates. The governors in multiple states were ending COVID relief efforts. The end of the pandemic appeared to be upon us.
 
But today, that post-pandemic optimism is fading. Big companies like Amazon decided to delay reopening their offices to 2022, and several employers declared remote work to be permanent. The CDC revised its mask policy and asked the vaccinated to once again wear masks.
 
The new normal is here, and it includes COVID-19. The pandemic may technically end, but COVID-19 will remain. There’s no discussion about the eradication of this virus. Instead, we can count on more variants, (likely) more vaccinations, and ongoing fights about the appropriate use of face masks. I don’t see the return of lockdowns either, so the new normal is living with the virus among us.
 
After everything we’ve been through, this may seem like a major capitulation. But things have changed. We can detect the virus quicker and have improved treatment plans. The vaccinated do not get as sick. The new normal is about living as normal as possible while acknowledging that COVID-19 isn’t going away.
 
Decisions made last year, especially as short-term fixes, must be reexamined. We need to reevaluate where to work as well as when to work. The “where” question encompasses both the office, the home, and locations within the home. Working from home is being revised with work from anywhere to include options such as coffee shops, hotels, co-working spaces, or emerging office hubs. Some want to be near the office physically, and others want location independence without any ties to the physical office.
 
Deciding when to work is also interesting. People work best when they have control over their schedules. Personally, I like the split shift—I work mornings and nights and keep my afternoons free. Another popular option is a four-ten work week which offers three-day weekends. Still, others might want to align their days with school schedules. Of course, if the traditional workday works, then keeping it is an option too.
 
The UCC industry has enabled unprecedented versatility. This idea was what Einstein referred to when he mentioned the space-time continuum relativity thing as comms and collaboration span time and space. If we eliminate the constraints of commutes and business hours, there’s a lot more flexibility to redefine the workday.
 
Video meetings are far from new, but the pandemic made the benefits of the technology evident to all. It turns out that video meetings do indeed enable face-to-face interactions regardless of participant locations and time zones. That’s not particularly new, but UCC has also reduced the need for all participants to be available at the same time. That’s because the industry that created real-time communications also facilitates asynchronous collaboration, made possible with team messaging apps, recorded meetings, and async video, such as the new Webex Vidcast service.
 
The pandemic has fueled a revolution in how we work. The UCC industry kept the doors open at a lot of businesses during the pandemic. The question now is what comes next? The hybrid office is part of it. The concept involves rethinking the space, equipment, and apps at both office and the home for the new normal.
 
The hybrid office is important, but it’s not the top of the list. The UCC sector has much more to offer. According to a survey from Snow Software, 34% of IT leaders said supporting hybrid work is their top priority. Instead, they’re focused on growth initiatives (57%), reducing or optimizing IT costs (55%), managing digital transformation initiatives (54%), and accelerating cloud adoption and migration (48%).
 
During the pandemic, remote and distributed work worked. The experiment may never end. It’s becoming clear the future of work is less about physical places and more about changes in behaviors, processes, and attitudes. The near-term opportunity for the UCC industry is to help organizations discover effective distributed work as a strategy in the new normal.
 
Dave Michels is Contributing Editor and analyst at TalkingPointz.
 

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