As we try to figure out the new normal, many comments and images have been tossed around. I ran across this article by Andy Crouch, Kurt Keilhacker, and Dave Blanchard of Praxis that gives us a good overview of what we’re facing.
Blizzard, Winter, Ice Age
For a minute, put your own thoughts to each of those words.
Years ago when my children were young, my wife and I decided to drive from Salt Lake City where we were living at the time back to her family farm in Michigan for Thanksgiving. Everything went great getting there as was our time with family at a very comforting time of the year. But then it was time to drive back from Michigan to Utah in early December. Things were going fine until I woke up (my wife was driving at the moment) and realized that we were spinning (a full 360) on the Interstate along with the cars and trucks near us. We had hit a blizzard in Nebraska. No one crashed and no one was hurt and we were able to get to the first exit which had a Holiday Inn where we checked in for a couple of days until the blizzard passed and the roads had been clear.
It was a scary experience!
Even after we were able to restart our journey, there was this anxiousness in the back of our minds as we headed out on the plains of Nebraska and into the mountains before making it to Salt Lake.
Blizzards are like that. Scary. They can be dangerous. And the possibilities can linger in our mind even after they clear.
Unlike blizzards that can come upon you quickly, we know that winters are coming. The calendar tells us so. The only thing we don’t know is how severe the winter will be and how long it will last. Keep in mind that we live in Michigan near the Lake Michigan side of the state. A couple of winters ago, we had an extremely cold spell of a couple of weeks during winter. Temperatures were below negative 20 degrees for nearly two weeks. When it’s that cold you need to protect people and things and be prepared if you lose your power. Even things in our garage began to freeze. But just like blizzards, we know that it will end sometime and things will get back to normal.
Back when I was a kid, we didn’t hear about global warming; we heard about another coming Ice Age. (Both based on science… supposedly.) We have beautiful, great lakes and terrain in Michigan because of the last ice age in which glaciers reached what is now the southern border of the state. It must have been impressive and awesome and it created and left a beautiful environment. But it was uninhabitable! The last Ice Age lasted about 12,000 years. Ice Ages create new normals.
What Are We Facing
Which category —Blizzard, Winter, or Ice Age— do you place our current Covid situation and the virtual workplace it has spawned?
I believe it’s clear to all of us that this is not a blizzard. We may have had some hope of that a year ago. We may have thought that “this will be over soon” and we would get back to normal. It is now obvious that is not going to happen.
I’m often asked why I continue to live in Michigan when I could live anywhere. My answer is that when you have a perfect day in Michigan, there is nothing like it anywhere else in the world. I’m sure it’s the result of the great lakes and beautiful forests.
But with Covid, we don’t get a summer full of beautiful days. We’re at least in winter. There will be no “perfect” days with Covid. We will not return to “normal”.
We may even be into an Ice Age with Covid and virtual work. Things are not likely to return to “normal” in our lifetime. It will be a much more cautious and virtual world. Because I have children and grandchildren who live in other countries of the world, I’m very familiar with virtual connections. But I can’t wait until I can be with them again to give them each a big hug. And with the teams I work with, there is nothing like that shake of a hand, that pat on the back, and being able to look directly into the eyes of each other when dealing with difficult issues.
This is the new norm. We’re never quite sure what the new normal will actually look like. We only know that it will be different (and confusing) until the new normal emerges.
We haven’t really figured it all out yet.
I know that many of our collaboration platforms (Zoom, MSTeams, Webex, and others) are working fast and furious trying to figure it out. But I do know that they’ll miss the mark if they rely on transactional measurements rather than personal relationships interactions to create the new normal.
As the team from Praxis says, “Out greatest resource is trust”. Trust is difficult to cultivate virtually, although I believe it can be done with focus and effort. It’s more important than ever in this time of winter and/or ice age to build trust. It will be hard work but it will also be worth it.