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July 23, 2021 // //  //       //  Opinion

Lessons from a ‘New Normal’ That Wasn’t

By: Michelle Rovere 

If this new decade has taught us anything, it’s that it will keep us on our toes.

It’s July 2021, some 18 months since COVID-19 started dominating our news cycles. And as the rest of the world continues to re-open, a large proportion of Australia’s east coast finds itself ‘back here.’ – back in hard lockdown, back in online learning mode, back confused about ways of working and back binge-watching state officials’ daily delivery of pandemic case numbers. Our reality TV fix has been replaced by watching the patient zero blame game play out across the media and trying to decode what the latest vaccination guidelines and ever-changing restrictions mean for us and our loved ones.

I don’t think any of us imagined we’d be back here. But we are – and why are we so surprised? The truth is most of us got complacent and we’ve been caught out. We started to feel we had COVID-19 in the bag, and now we face a more contagious Delta variant that keeps everyone guessing. We were finding our feet again. And whether we knew it or not, we created a ‘new normal’ comfort zone that wasn’t going to accommodate another outbreak.

People had just settled into various forms of hybrid work models, splitting their weeks between CBD offices and working from home, and teams had started to find their grooves when it came to collaborating effectively face-to-face and virtually. Now, we’ve all retreated back into our home offices and a reluctant reliance on Zoom. Meanwhile, many businesses are attempting version 2.0 of the pivot, sectors like construction have all but shut down and state economies have come to a halt in a desperate effort to stop further spread of the aggressive new variant.

Lining up for drive-through COVID-19 testing is once again our family day out. We’re learning about regularly changing restrictions and limitations, speculating over what constitutes an ‘essential’ reason to leave home, and trying to navigate the initiatives being introduced to support employers and employees – and then doing it all again the next week when new adjustments and announcements are made.

Lockdown living, working and learning should be second nature by now, as we’ve had plenty of practice. We should be accustomed to that feeling that the only certainty is uncertainty. But it remains unsettling, because we’re dealing with a same-same but different scenario. 

Even traditions that have stood the test of time look very different in 2021. We’re about to witness an Olympic Games like no other, in a city that all too recently called for its fourth state of emergency due to climbing COVID-19 case numbers. But, like a beacon of hope, the 2021 Olympic Games will proceed rain, hail or pandemic… albeit with some modifications. 

No tourism boost and no opportunity to show off Tokyo to millions of visiting Olympic spectators. Instead of arriving to the usual pomp and circumstance, incoming athletes go directly into the isolation of an Olympic bubble – or in the case of Australia’s athletics team, straight into a lockdown. They won’t explore the city or enjoy the festivities that come from being in the Olympic Village with hundreds of other athletes from all over the world. There will be empty stadiums instead of crowds and silence instead of applause. Perhaps for the first time in their careers, athletes will compete on a world stage without the cheers and jeers of an audience – and we already know this has caused a strain on the mental health of some high-profile gold medal hopefuls. 

Whether it’s the new normal comfort zones we’ve created for ourselves or a centuries-old tradition like the Olympics, nothing remains certain. Of all the lessons we will take away from the COVID-19 experience, one will surely be that as much as we think we’re in control we have no choice but to continue to adapt and evolve. Because there’s no room for complacency – certainly not in this decade.

As the head of Allison+Partners’ Sydney office, Michelle provides in-market support to clients while expanding the agency’s local presence. She has spent 20 years developing marketing and communications programs for some of the world's most recognized and respected technology and consumer lifestyle brands. Her expertise includes reputation and issues management, internal and external stakeholder communications and content development. 

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