There are many things we are all looking forward to when we finally get to the other side of this pandemic: Giving family members hugs. Not being afraid to go to the grocery store. Seeing our colleagues in person instead of on a Zoom screen.
And in a recent conversation with futurist Robert Moran, he gave us one more thing to look forward to in the post-COVID era.
The partner at Brunswick Group, a management consulting firm with offices in DC, spends his days helping corporate clients figure out what comes next. And, while a pandemic feels very disorienting and unexpected, we do have history to look back on to predict what might happen next.
“Human history is full of plagues and pandemics,” notes the Fairfax resident. His job, he says, is to ask, “What are the commonalities when humans exit a pandemic?”
Luckily for everyone who has spent the past 12 months staying close to home, Moran says, “One [of the commonalities] is celebration. At the end of a pandemic, there are usually what sociologists would call ‘transgressive celebrations.’ In other words, these are pretty wild parties.”
But before you preorder your keg and start fashioning a toga, let’s take a look at how else society has been rocked by this—so far—yearlong upheaval.
It’s not an understatement to say that the American way of life, including right here in Northern Virginia, has undergone a seismic shift in the past 12 months. Everything from how we work to how we play to how we communicate has changed with stunning swiftness.
Exercise? It’s now mostly outside.
Retail? It’s now mostly online.
Your office? For many white-collar workers, it’s now the dining room table.
School? The digital native generation has gotten used to Zooming into class.
The good news is, as we hit the one-year mark of living under the pressure of the pandemic, there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel. As of press time, nearly 125,000 Virginians have been fully vaccinated, and a new administration has made promises to speed up the rollout of the multiple COVID-19 vaccines that have so far been approved.
“Eventually, when this is over, people are going to feel like ‘Wow, we just pulled off an amazing thing. We created this vaccine. We vaccinated everybody. We stopped this thing. When we’re through this and out the other side, there’s going to be a sense of—it was a mess—but we did pull this off, and in relatively record time,” says Moran. “I know it sounds hard [to believe] at the moment, but once we’ve done it, I think people are going to feel like this was a moonshot almost.”
But once the hoped-for herd immunity is achieved via vaccine, what then?
How do we go back to normal?
Well, we don’t.
“I’ve often had to ask, ‘What does the word “normal” even mean these days?’ We’ll never be back to life pre-pandemic,” says Maria Bothwell, the CEO and chairman of the board at Arlington-based Toffler Associates, a future-focused strategic advisory firm. “I think we’re going to be carrying around masks and hand sanitizer for years because of germ fear.”
But post-pandemic life doesn’t just mean a continuation of obsessively washing hands and masking up.
Although it’s been an intense 12 months, the pandemic has also created an opportunity for the acceleration of some arguably positive trends.
“Whatever trend you had, it basically added five years overnight,” says Moran.
What does acceleration mean in this context?
You were already ordering from Amazon, for example, but now even more of your retail life has shifted online.
Many white-collar workers already occasionally worked from home; now companies have seen that it’s potentially possible full time.
And reading a magazine in your doctor’s waiting room has been replaced by virtual visits in many instances.
“Companies have made capital investments [to accommodate the pandemic], and [consumers] have adapted, so those things are here to stay,” says Bothwell of trends like contactless delivery, more robust digital tracking for packages and the technology needed to allow for employees to work from home. “But the analog stuff, like a wedding, the reason you’re there is to cry and hug your family members. Those things will come back.”
Moran concurs. “We’re going to go to Nationals games. We’re going to go out to eat,” he says. “A lot of things about the future don’t look all that different from the past.”
The post-pandemic era—if history predicts the future—will also be a time of growth for many, says Moran.
“We’ll see a lot of out-of-the-box creativity. After every plague or pandemic, completely new ideas, novelties, new art forms get created because people have had an intense period of fear and introspection and all of sudden they have this huge burst of creativity,” he says. “I think we’re going to see that quite a bit. And depending on how you look at it, it’s either frightening or it’s very exciting.”
What else will be different? What else will be the same? As we hit the one-year mark of pandemic life in March 2021, here’s a look at some major facets of life and what they may look like post-pandemic.
With most of the region working from home the past year, many are unsure if the office can return to business as normal. [READ MORE]
After a year of traffic-free driving, we look into how the roads and Metro around the DMV will look once people start returning to the office. [READ MORE]
As you look to get back to leisure travel, expect to see some permanent changes at the local airports. [READ MORE]
Even through tourists stayed away from the region during COVID, leisure travel should see a boost in the coming years. [READ MORE]
The entertainment community was hit hard by COVID shutdowns. Now, these music halls and venues are looking to welcome back audiences and open the stage. [READ MORE]
With online shopping being the go-to for purchases this past year, malls and brick-and-mortar stores are revamping how they do business. [READ MORE]
Experts weigh in on how dining out may have changed for good. [READ MORE]
After months of virtual learning, school districts are starting to welcome back teachers and students. [READ MORE]
Gyms across the region took a hit last March when COVID-19 made its way to NoVA. Here is how they plan to reopen. [READ MORE]
Here’s what you need to know about the state’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan. [READ MORE]
Here’s a look at how the pandemic played out in Northern Virginia over the past year. [READ MORE]