The memes are right: How can it be March this month when it was March last month? It feels like we were all just sitting at our desks, thinking we’d be back next week, not next year. True Northers miss grabbing coffee together, spontaneous chats about reality shows, bagel Fridays, and even the quirky characters and sights we’d see on a daily basis around New York and San Francisco. With vaccines already rolling out, it’s now got us thinking: What does our post-COVID workplace look like? What changes and innovations should we keep? When do we all start wearing real pants again?
In early 2020, it was bizarre to have a conversation with someone six feet away in sunglasses and a mask, like you’re about to pull off a heist. Now that it’s one year later, we find ourselves unable to watch TV without wondering why actors aren’t masked up. It’s also hard to remember the days when we were one inch from that sweaty guy on the subway literally breathing down our necks. We’ve all adapted to mask wearing and it’s also become important to our clients to show they’re complying with safety orders. This year serves as an interesting crossroads where photo and video shoots may need to be captured both with and without face coverings as the world gradually feels more comfortable unmasking and our fear of droplets subsides.
First invented in 1994 and later popularized in the U.S. in 2011, QR codes aren’t exactly new technology. However, they’ve made a comeback for outdoor dining to ditch the communal menus that normally pass between countless hands.
Curbside pickup is another phenomenon that wasn’t spoken of in 2019 but is available nearly everywhere now to cut down on needless germy interactions. At the office, we really didn’t give it much thought before, but everyone used to touch that elevator button and stapler. Zero contact, such as sanitizing stations where you just place your hand beneath, isn’t always possible, but we can at least disinfect equipment more regularly and explore contactless options. We’ll also have to see whether the QR code is here to stay and whether our clients are interested in using it now that it’s become commonplace to customers.
How can we be so sure our coworkers are 3-dimensional anymore? Faces in boxes is the new normal, and love it or hate it, workflow wouldn’t be the same without Zoom. One key difference is planning because you won’t bump into your coworker anymore—you have to schedule a Zoom and carve out a specific time to talk. Working remotely has also given us a more personal window into each other’s homes and made us more empathetic to each other’s lives.
The hybrid at-home/in-office paradigm seems feasible now that everyone has been home for more than a year. From shared Google Docs and Keynotes to group Zoom brainstorms for new business pitches, we’ve leveraged every program possible to not let working remotely disrupt our ability to work together. Beyond the Google Suite and Zoom, there are tools like Microsoft Whiteboard, a digital canvas allowing virtual ideation and iteration across several devices. Many companies are considering opening up job opportunities to qualified candidates from anywhere and setting up satellite offices in hubs outside cities closer to where many employees live. We’ll have to think about what the future of WFH means, such as coordinating days to come in for optimal collaboration.
When the pandemic started, we created a new tradition: meeting via Zoom altogether every other week to check in and share our latest work and news. On Halloween, we did a slow reveal where everyone joined with cameras off and then one-by-one showed off our costumes. For the holidays, we toasted to a brighter new year with the same bottle of bubbly gifted to each True Norther in the mail. Who knew you could actually feel closer to coworkers in other departments from further away? With the introduction of all-staff virtual meetings, we find ourselves talking more with people from other teams.
We’ve been finding ways to unwind and play, from jackbox games after a long day’s work to our ROMP challenges, such as reinventing road signs by either coming up with a new design or making the message clearer. In another challenge, we tried to guess which brand’s logo their new version is, which proved harder than it seems because of the resurgence of a retro style. One other virtual experience that we explored is called AltspaceVR. Since concerts, vacations, and large meetups aren’t safe options in the real world, the virtual reality world simulates those events to remember how to socialize beyond talking to ourselves and our dogs.
After a whole year, we realized that there are several pandemic life norms that agencies can carry on in a post-COVID world. Despite many positive changes we’ve made under tough circumstances, we haven’t found a substitute for the human interaction and inspiration that comes from the energy of the city or popping into the local coffeeshop or chatting with coworkers around the watercooler. That connection, not WiFi, but literal connection with team members and friends after work is irreplaceable. However, the shakeup that was caused by the year we all spent at home has made us take a step back and think on how we can innovate and evolve beyond the basic 9 to 5 grind.