We all have a mental image of pre-COVID normal.

I often hear people saying "I cannot wait to get back to normal." or asking "When will we get back to normal?" I think that is an expectation that is sure to be disappointed. I suspect that is the case for most who read this site.

I'm curious about the mental image of the near future normal that is held here. I'll list a few areas for thoughts but also don't think anyone should be limited in any thoughts they want to share.

1) International Travel -- can be general, tourism related or business related

2) Entertainment -- theater/movies, live sports and concerts. One thought here might be a move to more open air venues rather than indoors.

3) Social interactions in general. Does some of the zenophobia that has occurred persist or die away (say due to vaccines).

4) Will vaccines change things that much?

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I think buying things online is becoming more widespread and will be much more common than before covid. This should have some effect on how commerce is organized, with the less online-savvy businesses losing some ground. Maybe we shall get used to paying more for the delivery than we did before, but it will work both ways; I can imagine publishers having to cut prices and whole branches of the book printing industry drying out.

Then there's a question of professional unions, for example teachers' unions. I have no idea what they will do, but they will be desperate. Might result in new legislature.

(I don't know how well it corresponds to what is happening in the States, though, or even in Europe.)

4) Yes. So much depends on timing, availability, and effectiveness of vaccines.

1-3) All of the others have some amount of pent-up demand, and some long-term lingering fear/habit effects. And how those interact will mostly depend on 4. I suspect very-long-term effects (10+ years) will mostly be some trends that accelerated during the virus-fear times, rather than actual directional changes from the virus.

I think that a minority of people will decrease their in-person interactions, even after covid is no longer a big problem, for years, decades, or the rest of their lives. Although this group will be a minority (similar to the number of people who are currently still maintaining strict quarantine), they will be influential because they are highly educated and because shut-ins have more time to express opinions online. I expect this to have a negative impact on society in several ways: fewer high-quality social interactions, more mental illness, fewer real-world sexual and romantic relationships, decreased level of courtesy, higher obesity rates, less connection to local communities and less awareness of facts in the real world.

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I think that most things will return to normal, simply because most people will insist. For many people keeping their habits is more important than survival. Right now in the middle of pandemic there are people who can't resist the desire to travel -- why would anything about their habits change when it is over?

I only expect long-term changes in situations where the people learned something new during the pandemic. For example, many parents were forced to set up video conferences for their kids, or many employees were forced to try working from home. This knowledge will not disappear completely. Maybe in the future, more employees will try to work remotely, and more parents will try to communicate with schools online. But even this will be a minority of the population, so instead "the society does X differently" it will be more like "there is a significant minority doing X where previously almost no one did".

My employer is definitely considering allowing more people to telework, now that we see it can be done. So I expect a shift in that direction, although many people really prefer being in the office, so I expect very few companies to go to 100% telework for everyone.

It is funny to read discussions on Hacker News, where half of people are hoping to return to the office soon, and half of people are hoping that the remote work remains forever.

Some people seem to suffer a lot from the remote work. From my perspective, it is a huge improvement in my quality of life (and would have been even greater if I had a long commute, but at his specific job I don't). And I still have kids at home all day, because of the COVID-19, so if I could stay at home when this all is over, with kids in kindergarten during the day, that would be even greater.

Unfortunately, I am afraid that managers are overrepresented in the "wants back to office" group, and ultimately, the managers will make the decisions about the remote work. I have a little hope that the CEOs will also consider "money saved" and decide that it's cheaper to not have a huge office. (I mean, the ultimate reason for having open spaces, that most people complain about, and that significantly increase sickness at work, is saving a few bucks. So, if working from home saves even more bucks...)

People talk about how working from home is better/worse from the productivity perspective (fewer distractions / fewer spontaneous discussion), but I suspect that for most people this is actualy about being introverted or extraverted, and the rest is mostly rationalization. For me, I am strongly introverted, and just being surrounded by people the whole day puts some unnecessary emotional stress on me, my instincts are screaming at me to find some small place to hide. At the beginning of my career, people had actual offices where they could go and close the door; these days, it's not much of an option. Also, when people take break from work, at the office they congregate around the coffee machine; at home I can exercise or do the dishes (which means I don't have to do that in the evening). I can cook the lunch for my entire family, and it's cheaper (and probably healthier) than me alone having lunch at a restaurant near work.

I hope enough people will have the same preference, and having experienced the joys of working from home, that there will be enough pressure on employers in the future to allow it. But I wouldn't bet my money on it, when COVID-19 is over. I already see many people returning to the office voluntarily while they still have a perfectly good excuse to stay at home. Once too many people return voluntarily, it will automatically become mandatory again.

I've been teleworking too, and I see some of the advantages you're talking about. I sit through a lot of boring meetings, and they're much less stressful now that I can be invisible and avoid the pressure of having to look professional—and with wireless headphones, I can walk around and do stuff.

Thing is, though, so much of work is about relationships and resolving conflict, and the way humans are built is that relationships just don't work as well when you're not face-to-face. I think we've all noticed this with internet interactions--people will say shit to you that they would never say if they were face to face, and conflicts get worse and less courteous (even with people you know in person, taking it online harms the relationship). And if you're at all interested in friendships or romantic relationships or mentorships formed at work, that's just not going to happen if you never meet people in person. I feel sorry for the new people who have joined our organization recently and have to work with people they've never met.

So I guess where I come out is, I'm glad I have the ability to telework as needed or perhaps a fixed one or two days a week, but I would not keep a job that was 100% telework, and I hope the future involves most people coming into the office most days.

(All in all, I think we should begin with imagining how the incentives are going to change, and then what the people are therefore going to adapt to.)

(Actually, this question is too awkward to be answered without thinking about politics, since it's apparent some things will be thrown under the bus. And I don't mean that we need any outward enemy for this to happen, even though it helps, but just that throwing them under the bus has always been the cheaper option. And now at last we can...)

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