Back around May, I saw a video on Facebook. It was two cousins, both around 8 or 9. They were standing about 6 feet apart, and giggling. A parent of one of the children explained that the cousins hadn’t been able to see each other for weeks due to covid restrictions, and they were about to get to hug for the first time since. They looked at each other and the mom said “Go ahead!”, and they sheepishly started inching toward each other, and then finally their eyes met and they tackled each other in a big hug.
And at the same time, both children started sobbing uncontrollably. It was honestly heartbreaking to watch, and it perfectly illustrated the loss we are all feeling of a human connection right now. I’m introverted, so not being in social settings hasn’t hit me as hard, but I know a lot of my extroverted friends have been struggling this year. Just as introverts feed off solitude, extroverts feed off contact with others. There will be many studies and books done on how this country handled dealing with coronavirus in 2020, but one aspect that cannot be denied is that being locked up at home has had a devastating impact on the mental health of this country. And some experts believe its actually made the spread of the virus worse, not better.
So when the country fully reopens, there will be a great desire to return to normalcy. But the realty is, we have all adjusted our lives this year, and some of those adjustments will become permanent changes. I can see two big behavioral changes that we will adopt as a society moving forward:
1 – We will do far less in-person shopping for food. Trips to the grocery store will more often be to pick up an order that we placed online, instead of going to shop for food while there. We will also use delivery services more both for meals from restaurants, and to order from services that offer meals we can prepare at home.
2 – Many companies will decide to make remote work from home permanent for their employees. This year has been a trial-by-fire for many companies in embracing remote work, but many companies will find out it makes sense for them and their employees.
So think about how that will change our behavior. A lot of the trips out to ‘run errands’ like grocery shopping, picking up dinner, etc, will now be handled via delivery services. So fewer trips away from the house. And more of us will be working from home, so that will eliminate even more trips away from home.
But, spending all this time at home will also greatly reduce the amount of in-person contact we will have with friends and co-workers. So I starting in 2021, we will see many of us placing a greater emphasis on leaving the house in order to meet with friends, co-workers and family members. A greater percentage of our trips away from the house will be of a social nature to connect with others.
And I think this will go beyond just heading to a bar or movie with friends. I think you’ll see more deliberate thought put into our social gatherings, and they will be considered more special and meaningful. For example, for Halloween 2021, I could the return of community hayrides, maybe school Halloween carnivals, community-wide trick or treating that incorporates ways for parents to have social time together as well. Activities that were normally aimed at individuals could be promoted as group affairs. For instance, more guided tours for groups at museums, giving you a chance to sign up to join a group instead of going alone.
For companies, I could see a greater emphasis on trips for employees, and in-person team-building exercises. Maybe the annual company retreat becomes a bi-annual event every six months. Conferences could begin to incorporate fun social events in the evening rather than just telling attendees they were on their own at 5pm, ‘See you tomorrow!’ And conferences are going to come back in a big way starting I think in Fall of 2021 moreso than in the Spring. So those of you that are about to start planning for next year’s events, focus on building time into the schedule for attendees to interact with each other. We will want and need that time.
Human beings are social creatures. We need contact, we need to interact with each other. We were not meant to live our lives in fear locked up in our homes. This is not healthy for our bodies or souls. Starting in 2021 I believe you’ll see us yearning for more in-person contact and social events. The smart companies are the ones that will provide more social options for us.