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Fifty shades of normal

Bill Storie, CEO of the Olderhood Group

Hands up those who have heard the phrase “the new normal”.Hands up those who understand what it means. Thought so. I don’t either.It seems to me that we are all desperately trying to define a change in the way we do things as a result of Covid-19. But while we attentively listen to experts trying to explain what it means we are either more confused or we shrug our shoulders and acknowledge that they know better than we do. Like everyone else I’m quite happy to accept that they know best.However, when I stop and ponder what it means, I keep coming back to the “one size fits all” syndrome. Or I should say “one size does not fit all”.Let’s look at two examples of people in gainful employment.Kevin works in the hotel industry and Roger works in the reinsurance sector.Before Covid-19 Kevin was a front desk ambassador at a large hotel. His day was always busy with guests checking in, guests checking out, guests with questions, rooms to have cleaned, new bookings to handle and room service issues.Busy lad. He was friendly and extremely efficient. He was in front of the public all day long and had to be nice to people. He was nice to people. He was very good at his job.On the other hand, before Covid-19, Roger was an IT expert and typically found himself locked away in a cubicle in his downtown office from morning to evening. His day was also super busy with e-mails, telephone calls, website searching, software evaluations and requests from fellow workers whom he never met in person. His “non-geek” associates would frustrate him with idiotic questions, but he was polite and tried his best to respond with courtesy. He was comfortable in his job — and was good at it.Then wham.Covid-10 blankets all of us — with a vengeance.Suddenly everyone is aware of a dangerous virus and we must all shelter in place, wear masks, wash our hands every hour on the hour. We realise our lives, both at home and at work, will never be the same. Our normal way of living has been shattered. Instead of having colleagues at work pestering us, we now have our kids wandering in and out of our new workspace at home, our bedroom, our kitchen, or maybe we managed to find a closet where we can hide.Then someone comes out with the phrase “the new normal” and asks what it will look like when we “get through this”. We are sent into a tailspin of quandary. What indeed will be our new normal. What changes will be forced upon us. Will we recognise our new methods of working?We accept that wearing a mask will likely become a new normal. Keeping two metres apart will likely become a new normal. We will wash our hands a dozen times a day. We may have to line up to get into the grocery store for a while. Okay, so those are “new normals”. Agreed.But let’s check in on Kevin and Roger.Kevin’s new normal will unfortunately look different from Roger’s. His constant flow of guests, especially from overseas, will be drastically curtailed due to limited air arrivals. His front desk which has always been “hot” will be cool at best.Kevin hopes that the experts will be able to find new ways to rebuild the stream of guests to his hotel. He understands this may take time, but he remains positive that it will happen and that his new normal will slowly begin to resemble the old normal.On the other hand, Roger still goes to his same old work again (having departed the closet), sits at his same old desk, turns on his same old computer, answers the same old requests: in effect he does the same old job. He listened to the experts talk about the new normal. He really did listen and he was genuinely concerned that his new normal would be unrecognisable. “What happened?” he now asks himself. “My new normal looks awfully like my old normal.”There’s a point to all of this (he says hopefully).We didn’t all lead the same life before Covid-19. We won’t all lead the same life after Covid-19. We had myriad differences and personal choices. One man’s old normal was different from another man’s old normal.Ergo, one man’s new normal will be different from another man’s new normal.There is no one size fits all. We should recognise that trying to design new ways of working — be they remote or not — will be fine for some and not for others. Universal solutions will not work. Customised solutions will.There will indeed be 50 shades of normal.• Bill Storie is chief executive of The Olderhood Group Ltd, Bermuda and is a CA (Scotland). He is also producer and host of the Olderhood Radio podcasts, which can be found on The Royal Gazette website. For more information, visit www.olderhoodgroup.com