Well, I certainly was optimistic in my last post about when I’d return to normal. The move proved to be a bit more onerous, so I missed last week’s post, as well as this week’s deadline. C’est la vie. We press on.
As we start getting our vaccines rolled out to younger folks in my part of the country, we are beginning to have virtual watercooler chats about what the return to normal will be. The gut-reaction is that our higher education institutions will kowtow to pressure to return to face-to-face delivery as soon as possible – whether it’s students looking for the ol’ college experience, administrators looking to address gaps in the bottom line, or employees desperate to escape working from home.
It’s tempting to think things will return to normal, back to the pre-pandemic status quo. We, as creatures of habit, like to slide back into what’s comfortable and expend the least amount of energy that we need to.
But knowing what I know about people, a “return to normal” is going to smack straight into the loss aversion wall – people don’t like to lose benefits once they have them. It switches to an entitlement mentality. I don’t mean this in a negative sense. Entitlements are good! When we talk about entitlements, it carries a negative connotation of something not earned. But to the contrary, I think “unearned” entitlements are the point of society, culture, and government. Rather than everyone being forced to create everything for themselves, we can leverage divisions in labour, experience, technology, and collective action to ensure that benefits get spread around. The metaphorical tide should raise all ships.
So, what does it mean when we are rushing back to return to normal – what do we think we are missing, and what would a return to normal cost us?
A return to normal means hours of commuting per week, instead of going upstairs to work.
A return to normal means rigid schedules and limited campus space, instead of blending the flexibility of synchronous and asynchronous delivery.
A return to normal means bringing back flu seasons at work.
A return to normal brings back all the issues around inclusion and accessibility for those who don’t fit the “normal” not built for them.
Here at home, a return to normal means less time with our infant son. It would also mean less quality time with my wife.
I haven’t packed a lunch in a year. My office dress clothes have been hanging untouched in my closet. I’ve fueled up as many times as maybe months we’ve been working from home.
Not everyone is as fortunate as I am to still be working from home. Many employees at my institution still have to go on campus to work because they’re essential, so their current normal differs from mine. However, we must question whether we want the consequences of having the rest of us join the essential few. I sincerely doubt it is automatically a return to something better.