How familiar are you with cicadas?
Depending on where you live, cicadas might be a mysterious news item, periodic passers-by, or occasional overwhelming swarms. In this neighborhood, Brood X is crawling out of the woodwork — or at least, out of the woods — at the end of their 17-year underground siesta.
Depending on where you live, post-pandemic life might seem completely hypothetical, somewhat imaginable, or almost within reach. In this area, more and more masks are coming off and the distance that separates us is starting to shrink.
In addition to honoring our fallen heroes, the Memorial Day holiday weekend has long been recognized as The Start of Summer. This year, the subtitle that follows might be The Emergence.
Emergence: 17-year cicadas
In case you’ve been wondering, there are indeed thousands of varieties of cicadas, they are not the same as locusts, and they cause more confusion than harm. In fact, apart from hanging upside down on a hat brim to stare at you with beady red eyes, inches away from your face, inducing shock and horror (Hypothetical situation or childhood memory? You decide.), cicadas are completely harmless to humans.
The lifecycle of periodic cicadas is pretty mysterious, but they really know how to make an entrance. In the eastern US, Brood X (the Great Eastern Brood, identified by the Roman numberal 10, of course) is expected to show up in droves — up to 1.4 million cicadas per square acre, but who’s counting? Emerging from the ground, they leave behind the shells of their former selves to grow wings, make some noise (louder than lawnmowers), and have a good time. Life is short — just a few weeks — and cicadas are here to party. When time is up, they leave the next generation behind to chill out underground until it’s a good time to party again.
Emergence: Post-pandemic humans
Around the world, there are an endless range of restrictions and regulations in flux as governments, businesses, and individuals work to align vaccination rates, scientific research, and social wellbeing. While some have long been ready to chuck their masks, some are still reluctant — even in places where “masks for all, no matter what” rules have switched to “masks recommended for those not vaccinated”.
Social distancing restrictions and gathering size limits have been shifting, too, meaning that those venturing out find themselves closer and closer to others. For many, this is a joyful time to connect with friends and family members who’ve been so far away for so long. For others, it’s too much too soon. Even as science expands our understanding and our opportunities to be safe, catching up — mentally, socially, and even physically — can be hard to do.
A garbled version of Gatsby‘s last line emerges — with apologies to F. Scott Fitzgerald: So we stumble forward, hearts over minds, wandering blinkingly into the sun.
Planning: So, did you want to…
Despite the excitement and optimism surrounding post-pandemic transitions, it’s important to note that these are processes. Even for those who’ve been faithfully following each round of recommendations and guidelines, nothing happens instantly. There’s no magic switch that automatically updates all of the protocols and signs in place, let alone resets our comfort level to the new normal. I was in the car on the way to the grocery store when I heard the CDC mask guidelines had changed, and I was as surprised as anyone else. When I got to the store, though, I fully expected to see the mask mandate in place and to continue to wear a mask (right on both counts!). A few weeks later, these signs are still changing, and in stores, I still see more masks on than off.
How does this work, then? How do businesses decide when and how to transition? For grocery stores and other in-person customer experiences, should employers have different standards for their employees and their customers? Should we all be sending out return to work surveys to our employees and return to business surveys to our customers? Do we need to institute temperature screenings and ask employees to complete daily COVID self-checks?
How do friends and family members decide how to transition? Maybe it’s time for a huge party where we all get together and hug each other and catch up on everything we’ve missed, blasting music and partying like — cicadas?
At this point, you think I’ll shift to the importance of gathering feedback in making decisions? Right on.
Feedback beyond the basics
In addition to continuing to keep up with the latest guidance — the self-aware title of the CDC’s evolving “Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People” (updated three days ago!) always impresses me — hearing from and connecting with the actual individuals who make up your real live audience is critical. It’s not just the latest data that matters, but the data from the right people who rely on your decisions.
It’s fair to say that there’s a lot more to add on the value of fresh data in this conversation, but that’s another blog entirely.
As we begin our return to the office here, we’ve done surveys, we’ve had group meetings, we’ve had one-on-one conversations, and we’ve built resources to answer our team members’ questions and prepare to meet their needs. Some of our newest team members have never even been to our office, which adds a whole new layer on top of the RTO (return to office) considerations. A funny welcome video, a daily self-check survey sent on WFO (yep, work from office) days, and plenty of goodies have been key in our planning. The dress code, new seating chart, kitchen etiquette, building guidelines (these stairs only go up and those stairs only go down!), and how to meet in real live person — all of these are critical questions to answer above and beyond whether to wear a mask or how far to stay apart.
I’m excited to see my colleagues again in real life — yes, more excited than I am to see cicadas — but I know that this is a time of transition. As we make our way forward, we might stumble a bit and feel a little awkward, but we’re getting there. I’m going to spare you the parallel cicada metaphor and photo, but from the buzz I’ve been hearing, they’re pretty psyched up, too.
Coming soon: Want to see what other people are thinking about this transition? This week, we’re sharing results from our quick vax and mask study, highlighting the space between.