When We Go Back, Let’s Not Go Backward

As we wrap up another week of quarantining at home, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot more certainty about our return to “normal” life than when we started. Sure, there’s been an endless barrage of news coverage, competing facts, and sometimes “alternate facts,” but no one really knows when and how this thing will end. Or if it will at all. Now, the talk centers around a “new normal,” with little clarity on when or what that will be.

At some point, though, things will return to some semblance of the old way, and we’ll return to working in workplaces. But what treasures can we salvage from this journey to bring back with us?

As I reflect on this experience, the downsides have been plenty and have tended to come in waves – anxiety, sleeplessness, isolation, loneliness, boredom, frustration, de-motivation, so-called “Zoom fatigue,” and so on. We’ve all experienced some or all of these I’m sure.

But wow, there have been some upsides.

For me, the professional ones include learning new skills, experimenting with new software, working with new people, navigating challenging projects, required creativity, renewed entrepreneurialism, mad productivity, and weirdly, doing more of the work I love most.

The personal upsides have been even less expected and more meaningful.

Without a half-hour commute or the school rush, and combined with getting up even earlier than usual, my mornings have unfolded into a near embarrassment of riches: reading and reflection time, exercise, mindfulness meditation, quiet time with Amy over cups of coffee, and sitting outside listening to the birds put on their sunrise symphony. I’m not gonna lie, it’s pretty great.

I see my kids at lunch every day. I can kiss my wife randomly just because I’m around to remind her that I love her. My weekends aren’t packed with kids’ sports and other commitments, and I don’t have FOMO, because no one else is doing those things either. I visit old friends on video chats who I would never have seen otherwise. I play fetch with our dog every day at 5:30. I enjoy a beer. Sometimes two. I don’t get haircuts. Or shave every day.

When it’s time to go back to work, I don’t want to go back to things as they were. Over-scheduled. Over-committed. Over-stimulated. I’d like all those things to be over.

Instead, my wish for all of us when we finally get to be together again is that we are more thoughtful, more intentional, more creative, more connected, more adaptive, more productive, less rigid, less encumbered and less stressed.

We have an opportunity to meld the best of the old way, marked by in-person camaraderie, connection and collaboration, with the best of the new way, which gives us more control over – and responsibility for – how, when and where we do great work.

When we go back, let’s not go backward.

What will you carry with you from this experience? What will you stop doing? What will you start doing?

I, for one, hope I never sit on a conference call again. It’s video chats forever for me. Why in the world would we choose to stay blind when we can finally see?