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Our Fourth Anniversary: What's Changed...?

As we approach mid-March and prepare to mark the fourth anniversary of the global COVID pandemic lockdown, it may serve us well to pause and reflect on change, as we still struggle in search of our 'new normal.' Initially disrupted by the abrupt halt to normalcy – physically and psychologically – individuals were forced to adapt to new realities with resilience and resourcefulness. Some were able to adapt more successfully than others, and even though it changed us all in some way, we've finally begun to see daylight on the other side.

Remote work became the norm for many, blurring the lines between professional and personal spaces. This shift catalyzed a reevaluation of priorities as people sought a greater balance between work and life. While the COVID-19 pandemic initially led to a surge in pet adoptions as people sought companionship during lockdowns and periods of isolation, concerns about the potential for increased relinquishment once pandemic-related restrictions eased were not unfounded. The pandemic also sparked a surge in creativity and innovation, with individuals exploring new hobbies, pursuing long-dormant passions, and finding novel ways to stay connected with loved ones. For many whose personal identity is closely linked to the work they do, the COVID pandemic brought new questions and a new focus. Moreover, there has been a collective reckoning with mental health,  a reckoning that remains strong today as people continue to grapple with the emotional toll of a still uncertain world.


The Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System tells us that the Spring of 2020 was characterized by widespread fear and dramatic business exits from the marketplace. Almost everything we knew as we knew it ceased to exist. At the same time, the third and fourth quarters of that same year revealed new business applications were surging. In fact, overall, new business births outnumbered business exits for the pandemic year of 2020. This doesn't, however, consider business downsizing and the massive rise in unemployment to an unprecedented 23MM out of work in April of that year, 50 percent higher than the record loss of jobs during the Great Recession of 2009.


While the contraction was sharp, the recovery has also been swift, with millions of Americans returning to work in some capacity and unemployment halving by the beginning of 2021. Since then, the job market has continued to recover, with economists at the New York Times suggesting that 2024 is, by some measures, even more robust than the historically strong job market of pre-COVID 2019. Employers are beginning to see an end to the inflated expectations of compensation and benefits that appeared as a secondary aftereffect of the return to work post-lockdown. As JP Morgan Chase tells us, within the next year or so, around 50 percent of those pandemic startups will no longer be around, further supporting the postulate that the period of desperate hiring with ridiculous salaries and double-digit signing bonuses is over as even more people return to the workforce as employees.


We're slowly returning to a world we better understand, but 'normal' looks a bit different, don't you think? What does this mean for the employer of tomorrow? I assure you it's more than just having to sift through a stack of candidate cover letters with the remarkably similar signature tone and voice of a ChatGPT prompt.


The corporate landscape has changed. While people were deprived of much-needed human interaction during the pandemic, the forced isolation also afforded an opportunity for introspection. Consumer focus has shifted from the macro to a much more refined and self-considerate micro interactive and conscientious purchasing style. Do companies recognize this, and if so, how are they adapting to it? As is evident in any change scenario, change itself is only possible from the inside out. Recognizing the individual customer's self-considerate wants, desires, and needs and adjusting the message to attract the targeted consumer to a more specific offering is only a small piece of the overall success and sustainability puzzle.


Along these lines, many organizations are again considering workers they had previously shunned to provide and contribute to the corporate narrative in their own unique and target-specific way. Diversity, equity, and inclusion have closed the employment gap for minority workers, with job opportunities improving for people with disabilities, criminal records, and lower levels of formal education, and wages are up across the board. Social commentary now influences the mission and vision of the organization more than ever. (Unfortunately, as the American Psychological Association tells us, the last of the 'socially acceptable' discriminatory biases – that of ageism and the unconscious falsehoods exhibited toward older adults – is yet to be conquered. In the post-pandemic age or rebirth, as we continue to promote the public narrative about the benefits of a longer lifespan, it may prove more critical and beneficial than ever to overcome this.)


 With the introduction of AI into the commercial domain, a fledgling phenomenon itself in a wildly accelerating technical sphere of influence, coupled with a profound focus on strategic business goals and alliances that had given way to complacency, fatigue, and burnout in the pre-pandemic board room, business leaders of today cannot forget nor afford to forego the value we place on real human contact.


This might be my biggest takeaway from the lockdown and rebirth of the last four years.


'Personal energy resonance' is a real thing! We communicate with each other subconsciously when in the physical presence of another person. Perceived energy is transferred through our bio-electric resonance, allowing subconscious communication as we observe and interact by simply being with someone else in an adjacent physical space. I didn't pay much attention to this phenomenon before we no longer had the in-person, human interaction we had pre-pandemic, and as I further observe what's going on around me through business and personal interactions every day, I see evidence that its criticality cannot be overstated.


In the fast-paced, globally interconnected world of commerce, success often hinges not only on strategic planning and the successful execution of an organization's vision but also on this intangible yet extremely potent force. This is especially true for those businesses who 'play' in the experiential realm – that is, who offer their customer or guests 'an experience' or 'an emotion' derived through association with their product.


 This concept encompasses the alignment of individuals' inner energies, attitudes, and motivations with the overarching goals and values of the organization. When leaders and team members resound with a shared sense of purpose, passion, and positivity, they create a powerful harmonic resonance, permeating every aspect of the business. This resonance fosters a culture of collaboration, innovation, and high performance, where individuals are inspired to bring their best selves to the table and work synergistically towards common objectives. I am not saying that zoom® meetings should no longer have a place in the business acumen, and yes, there really is such a thing as 'videoconference fatigue,' but I am suggesting that employers pay more attention to the use of their team's time and etiquettes wisely – perhaps like never before.


Moreover, and perhaps more importantly from the corporate executive's perspective, personal energy resonance extends beyond internal dynamics to influence external relationships with clients, partners, and stakeholders, shaping the reputation and impact of the business on the broader marketplace – especially in the public domain. Fostering personal energy resonance within the organization is a strategic imperative and a transformative force that drives sustainable growth, resilience, and success in today's dynamic business landscape, reinforcing the customer's belief in the brand and product.


So, there you have it. As we continue to emerge post-pandemic and continue to define our 'new' place in the business geomorphology of our cities, our country, and even the world, don't be in a rush to 'get things back to the way they were' in your strategy and staffing meetings. Take the time to stop, reflect, and ask yourself, "What's different – what's really different than it used to be – and why?"


You may surprise even yourself with the answer – in a very positive way.

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