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© Andreas Prott

When We Return to Normal 

The carnage of the COVID-19 virus pandemic is all around us. Large businesses have suffered. Small businesses are struggling to survive, and some have already folded. Just when everything seemed to be going great, a near-disaster struck, which no one had anticipated. 

It happened so unexpectedly—that was a huge part of the shock. People died, fear was rampant, and the world suddenly shut down. Economic activity was ravaged, and no one had an immediate, one-size-fits-all solution. 

But now there is hope. Great strides, much quicker than in the past, are being made in therapeutics and vaccines to treat and combat this coronavirus. The versatility and creativity of the medical profession is amazing us once again.

You may remember the smallpox virus. It had terrorized the world since the third century B.C. Thirty percent of those who caught it died, many were left scarred and some went blind. As many as 300 million people died from it in the 20th century. Although a vaccine was introduced as early as 1796, smallpox wasn’t actually eradicated worldwide until 1980. Some of us still have the round white scars on our upper arms that resulted from the scratchy-needle vaccination given last century to long lines of unhappy school children in the United States. It’s a badge of courage, I guess.

Now that a modern vaccination for this virus seems possible, and we are beginning to work our way out of this, we wonder what the future will look like. Will we continue social distancing and washing our hands at every opportunity?  Probably not.

My guess is that things will return to normal more quickly than currently predicted, although “normal” a year or two from now may not be exactly like it used to be. 

More people will probably work from home. That was bound to happen anyway, and the suburbs will now attract some big-city digital workers. Large offices will be redesigned to limit long rows of desks. That might help prevent the influenza, which also kills people, from spreading so easily every winter. A plus.

Those business meetings via Zoom or Cisco Webex that have become so commonplace during the epidemic will not completely replace old-fashioned face-to-face and on-site meetings. Human beings are social animals. They want to be close enough to form impressions of each other. They have been that way for thousands of years, and that will not change.

James Doxey, a doctor specializing in mental health, explains the disadvantages of virtual contact this way: “There’s an exchange of energy and body language that’s missing in a virtual environment that makes it more of a challenge to really be able to read how people are feeling or reacting… It’s hard to pick up on those nuances that you would have when you see people in person.”  

I hope we can get back to scheduling some industry meetings in 2021. 

Jack Goodhue, management coach, may be contacted at

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