The World Is Returning to ‘Normal’ — but What Does That Mean?

Covid-19 Precautions in the Workplace
Brian Rea for Variety

Welcome to the oh-so-awkward grand reentry! A top industry executive privately recounted a recent experience that I believe speaks for many of us who are beginning to make that foreign-feeling transition back to the real world of in-person meetings, screenings and other live events.

The insider said he had had an appointment on his calendar with a business associate at another company and was in his home office awaiting the Zoom link to pop up on his screen. But as the clock ticked past their agreed-upon meeting time, the link still hadn’t appeared. He then suddenly rechecked his schedule and saw that the two were supposed to meet face-to-face at an off-site location across town. That had never even occurred to him.

Like any of us who have been cocooned at home, working entirely remotely for some 15 months, we’ve grown accustomed to operating in a virtual world. But, increasingly what has become an all-too-familiar habit of engaging in Zoom after Zoom is now morphing into a hybrid situation where more encounters happen over breakfast, lunch or end-of-day drinks. Even watching movies via links is being offset by some press screenings at theaters. The good news is that these real-life rendezvous are creeping back onto our work schedules because mask-wearing restrictions have been lifted as more people have gotten vaccinated, decreasing the number of COVID cases.

Many of those I talk with are elated to get back to some semblance of normality, though that doesn’t mean that everything suddenly feels … well, normal again.

I have found that at every in-person meal I’ve had in recent weeks, the first topic of discussion is without exception: Have you been vaccinated? Fully? I’ll be so happy when that is no longer the conversation opener.

And as I’ve begun to venture out to restaurants and other public spaces, I am hyper-aware of just how many people are gathering at any given venue. It always makes me super anxious to see crowds.

I went to my very first press screening earlier this month and found myself literally counting every single person who came into that theater.

And now, of course, we’re all dealing — and many are struggling — with the reality of having to go back into our offices and stressing over what that is going to look like in both the near and long term.

Who knows what the new normal will be?