Building a better normal

INTROSPECTIVE - Tony F. Katigbak - The Philippine Star

These past several weeks have been interesting, to say the least. It’s been nice seeing people enjoying the things they did pre-pandemic like going to a movie, having dinner with friends, and even seeing sporting events or concerts. It’s definitely a good sign that these may be possible once again. After all, too much isolation isn’t good for anyone.

However, it does make me feel somewhat nervous to think that we’re all just ready to go right back to how we were before COVID-19. I know that we’ve all suffered because of the pandemic – businesses suffered, people suffered, the entire world suffered. But just because we are all chomping at the bit to get out of the COVID pandemic era, that doesn’t mean that we should rush back to exactly how we were before the pandemic.

The words “new normal” have been tossed around a lot these past two years. Businesses and people pivoted to create a new way of living either by simplifying or transitioning to online digital solutions. We’ve seen whole organizations that had no intention of exploring “work-from-home” make the transition out of necessity. And people who never really saw their homes before because of busy schedules suddenly found time in their day to take on DIY projects or focus on home improvements.

The pandemic has also seen a significant exodus of people from Metro Manila. As the weeks and months dragged on, people realized that they may be able to move to various provinces and continue working without being in the city’s hotbed. Many people flew home or headed to provinces just outside of Metro Manila for a bit of peace and fresh air.

There was a lot of suffering. And I don’t wish this wretched global health crisis to last any longer than need be. Still, at the same time, I don’t think we should be thinking of just chucking everything we’ve learned throughout the past two years out the window to go right back to the way things were. After all, the way things were is a large part of how we got in this mess in the first place.

We’ve proven that we can be efficient in new ways. This should be an indicator that we have to build a new way of working and living, not just run right back to four hours in traffic a day just to get to work or kids spending eight hours in school and another four at home on homework. We pined for our hectic schedules when COVID effectively shut the world down, but looking back now, were we really busy or just inefficient. We’ve seen that there are definitely alternative ways of doing things that should be considered instead of just rushing back to the way things used to be. After all, spending 12 hours at work doesn’t automatically mean we’re good workers. It could mean that we’re not working at optimal levels. We should aim to work smarter, not harder.

Personally, I think companies should be open-minded when considering how to work moving forward. While in-person work is definitely essential and will never go away, work that can be done remotely should be factored into the new better normal as well. Thankfully it looks like many companies are looking at hybrid work systems that may see employees in the office three or four times a week instead of five to seven. They are also exploring setting up remote working operations for positions that aren’t absolutely needed in the office.

Forward-thinking businesses need to be open-minded when it comes to building their operations in 2022 and onward. While everyone wants to have COVID in the rearview, the fact remains, we aren’t 100 percent completely out of the woods yet. With news of Omicron making the future uncertain, it wouldn’t be wise to just assume we can rush back to our pre-pandemic lives.

At the end of the day, we need to retain what works and build a better future. One that preferably promotes social interaction and productivity without jamming tons of people together in small spaces daily for hours on end. We have to take the lessons we’ve learned and continue to make improvements. If we don’t just toss everything out the window, we can build a better, more resilient future.

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With the emergence of the Omicron variant and the potential threat of this variant being more transmissible than Delta, travel restrictions are being implemented anew. While it may be disheartening, this is a better approach than waiting until it’s too late and the variant is already here. And it is worlds better than simply reverting to face shields again in the face of a new threat.

At the end of the day, we need to have a resiliency plan in place. One that is reliable and easy to implement in the face of new threats. Omicron will most likely not be the last variant. Mutations will continue to happen in countries and locations with low vaccination rates. We have to be prepared with protocols to implement quickly when new variants are found.

Travel restrictions are one of the first and best ways to keep new variants from arriving on our shores. This needs to be coupled with strict testing, tracing, and isolation. Should the variant make its way here, somehow, it needs to be detected quickly, isolated, and stopped from spreading.

While we’re all grateful for a taste of “freedom” these past several weeks, it won’t last for long if we aren’t cautious. We have to strictly practice safety protocols and remind others to do the same. Complacency is our biggest threat, and when this becomes the norm, we’re allowing threats like new variants the opportunity to grow and spread.

It’s happened before, let’s make sure we’re more vigilant this time around so that we can enjoy the holidays and begin what’s hopefully going to be a better and brighter new year.

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