March 11th officially marked one year since the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic. It is truly staggering to think back over the last 365 days and reflect on just how much has happened. The ways in which we live and work have changed beyond anything we could have anticipated, as we continue to search for some sense of normalcy amid the chaos.
In March of 2020, when non-essential businesses were temporarily shutting down in an effort to “flatten the curve,” the nation’s office workers packed up their desks and hunkered down at home. Remote work became the norm, as people struggled mightily with juggling their jobs, childcare and other responsibilities. By April unemployment rates had skyrocketed and we were all left anxious, overwhelmed and doing our best to manage the unmanageable.
By the summer, employment had started to climb back up from the COVID cliff experienced in the spring, though the overall picture was still far from rosy. As time progressed and it became increasingly clear the pandemic would not be over anytime soon, some of the social implications of our new situation rose to the surface. People were quickly fatiguing with trying to balance their personal and professional lives in a scenario without clear boundaries between the two.
The group that shouldered the largest burden was working women, and female employment numbers took a serious hit as a result. We’re still only beginning to grapple with the effects of this female recession, and with the ways remote work exacerbates inequality overall.
The winter season saw skyrocketing COVID cases, but good news in the form of vaccine development. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines received emergency approvals, and the first shot in the U.S was administered in December. While the early stages of the vaccine rollout gave the country a reason to be hopeful, employers were beginning to consider what their options for mandating vaccines might look like when we eventually return to traditional office settings.
The new year brought with it a fresh wave of enthusiasm; one that lasted mere days before a new crisis hit. The Capitol Riots, in addition to infusing more fear and division in our country’s politics, created a complex situation for employers to navigate. But our attention was quickly turned back to COVID after the presidential inauguration, when the U.S. death toll surpassed 500,000 and vaccination efforts began to speed up.
Now, as the vaccine rollout continues to include more of the general public and new COVID cases are finally declining, we begin to think about how the lessons of the last year will shape the future of work. How to encourage workers to use PTO; providing the health care benefits employees actually need; building and maintaining company culture; supporting working parents through challenging times; EVERYTHING is on the table. And having these discussions now will improve our professional lives, as well as our work-life balance, long after the pandemic has subsided.