It feels longer than the seven weeks one has spent at home, and not because time is moving too slowly, but quite the contrary. The days have been packed, suddenly there is a lot more to do, because as I discovered, there was a lot more to learn.
For us, it all started with the RWP that was initiated on 17 March. Remote working protocol, had a nice ring to it, felt a lot more professional than the plebian WFH. One day we were in office, and the next day we were at home, and overnight the planet adopted the new lingua franca of the lockdown.
Suddenly we were zooming to meetings or getting into blue jeans for a quick huddle.
Unprecedented became the go-to word, used as a noun, verb or adjective, often interchangeably in the same sentence. A completely unscientific study shows that playbook and volatile also flirted with greatness briefly.
But nothing would even come close to the power of the words, new normal.
It would be wrong to call them just words.
They were more; they were a clarion call for a world struggling to make sense of the pandemic. And we all rushed to rally under their banner. There was a strange solace in them, they seemed to explain everything, all the uncertainty and volatility seemed to evaporate just by uttering these two magical words.
We were back in control, and the world made sense again.
I suspect we had miraculously co-created the first major new-age religion of the 21st century.
We all became believers of the 'new normal'.
As with religious movements of yore, even the 'new normal' quickly fractured into different sects. Each starting to propagate its own version of the 'new normal'. These sects were not significantly different, just differentiated by their choice of path to the supreme truth of the 'new normal'. The most prominent sects to emerge were the tech new normalists, the learner new normalists and the pivoter new normalists (if the words don’t roll of the tongue easily remember, it’s a new language).
The tech new normalists gravitated to the belief that technology will guide us through this storm to safer shores. These people immersed themselves into the world of zoom, MS teams, blue jeans and skype. Miro, Mural and Stormboard cluttered their screens as they dropped and dragged. No, they do not just use these tools to communicate, they use them to create. While you sit in the same boring corner day after day, they are changing the world one virtual backdrop at a time. Some have found alter-egos thanks to snap lens, while the truest of them have discovered new ways to use these tools (some of which were never intended by the creators of these tools).
One zoom call too many and followers of this sect find themselves zoomed out; a state characterised by short term catatonia.
If tech is the path of enlightenment for some, the learner new normalists find solace in the belief that knowledge is the true path to salvation. They consume knowledge at an unprecedented scale, much like your dependence on oxygen. A normal day for the learner new normalist begins with a free Harvard class on Chinese Calligraphy, followed by an Ezra Klein podcast, a Peter Theil Ted Talk provides the much-needed late afternoon energy boost and finally they ease into a YouTube masterclass on baking gluten-free bread. On special days they find time for webinars on, yes, the new normal. Another informal and unscientific study conducted during the course of writing this piece shows that the global yeast shortage can be attributed to this sect.
And finally, the pivoter new normalists. A sect that believes that everything must change. Only those who pivot will survive. They question the very reason for being. Does the wheel really need to be round? After all the square wheel video on YouTube does force us to reconsider our position. MS Excel is their favorite tool, if you get access to their computer you will find the folder Budget 2020 and the 216 versions of the file budget2020versionXYZ. Members of this particular sect are found to be distinguished by their extreme disdain for other sects. They believe that the true destination of the tech new normalist and the learner new normalist will be the acceptance and total surrender to the power of pivoting and no future can be created in the absence of MS Excel.
I have to admit that I too am a believer and a practicing member of the order of the new normal.
During the past seven weeks, I have flirted with all the three sects, at different moments they have all provided me much needed solace. For now, I find myself more at home with the tech new normalists which reminds me it’s time for the family zoom Saturday brunch and today I am going to surprise everyone with a live zoom backdrop.
(The author is CEO, Geometry Encompass.)