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What Life After COVID Could Look Like

Life certainly looks a lot different than it once did. Here’s how our new normal might continue to evolve in the near future.

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Mature man sitting at window, looking worriedWestend61/Getty Images

Getting back to some version of normal

Remember this time last year? We were just starting to come to terms with the fact that a deadly virus never before seen in humans was circulating the globe and spreading in the United States. And without a vaccine or an effective treatment or cure for the viral infection—now known as COVID-19—we essentially had the same containment options that we did during the 1918 flu pandemic, nearly a century earlier. Keeping physical distance between ourselves and others, staying home as much as possible, practicing good hand hygiene, and, eventually, wearing face masks were the primary tools at our disposal.

As a result, many office workers were sent home and told to do their job remotely for two—maybe three—weeks, until we got a handle on the virus. And now, a year later, those who were fortunate enough to hold onto their jobs continue to operate from desks in guest rooms or corners of kitchen tables. But with the vaccine rollout picking up steam, a return to some version of “normal” is getting increasingly closer. But what is that going to be like? Here are some predictions from experts.

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Woman looking at screen in cafe.Tim Robberts/Getty Images

Teletherapy will become more widely accepted

Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, some people had the option of attending psychotherapy sessions virtually, via video chat. While it was gaining popularity, it certainly wasn’t the norm—until we had no other option. “Many people came to online therapy out of necessity as the ability to attend a face-to-face appointment vanished,” Neil Leibowitz, MD, chief medical officer at Talkspace, a global provider in online therapy, tells Reader’s Digest. “As with many new things, the most difficult part of adoption is getting people to try it. What both clinicians and clients are finding is that they enjoy online therapy and that it is effective.”

Once we return to our normal routines, Dr. Leibowitz predicts that comfort will prompt the mass adoption of online therapy. “Many people will wonder why they took time off of work to travel to a therapist in the first place and enjoy the value of being able to just log on from home, work, or even a hotel room,” he says. It may also be preferable for some therapists, who have had to deal with their own mental health in addition to supporting other people.

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The prescribed measure of social distance is one bicyclearchigram/Getty Images

COVID-19 status will be part of dating

Though we’re still in the midst of the pandemic, at some point we’ll start going out again more regularly, and yes, that includes dating. But don’t expect things to go back to the way they were back in 2019. For example, once we get further along in the vaccine rollout, we may start discussing COVID-19 vaccination status similarly to how we have come to talk about STI status in sexual relationships—including potentially listing it on dating profiles. In fact, a survey conducted by Superdrug Online Doctor exploring COVID’s impact on dating found that Americans are more fearful of contracting COVID-19 from a new hookup than an STI.

“I think it will be intriguing how this changes society in a myriad of unspoken ways in the long term,” says sex educator and coach Domina Franco. “Will people be as willing to make out with an attractive stranger at a bar even once we are mostly vaccinated?”

RELATED: Why You Shouldn’t Share Photos of Your COVID-19 Vaccination Card

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Woman walking with luggage at railroad stationKlaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

We’ll start flying again, but with social distancing and other precautions in place

Though air travel came to a grinding halt during the coronavirus outbreak, it’s slowly starting to pick back up. The International Air Transport Association projects global air traffic in 2021 to be 50 percent higher year-over-year than in 2020, bringing it to 50.6 percent of its 2019 level. And airports and airlines will reflect our new normal: Expect social distancing to be alive and well in air travel. “Airlines will adjust by innovating how they interact with passengers,” says Jesse Neugarten, the founder of Dollar Flight Club. “We can expect to see the boarding process move to a back-to-front system to help customers follow social-distancing guidelines and limit the spread of COVID-19. Also, expect to see fewer food and drink services on flights in order to limit interaction with crew members and passengers.”

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Parents with baby son working at home10'000 Hours/Getty Images

The interior design of our homes will matter more

Whether you’re a news anchor broadcasting live from your basement or an intern joining a departmental Zoom meeting, the insides of our homes have been on display in a way that they have never been before, thanks to a dramatic increase in the use of video conferencing. “Thanks to technology, video conferencing has become the go-to solution for staying connected with your coworkers and families,” Rami Kuseybi writes for Vishion. “From proper lighting and camera placement to an interesting and appropriate background, interior design for your Zoom meeting is uncharted territory for most.”

Because of this, interior designers will be called upon more to help design beautiful and functional home offices, as many people will continue working from home. This won’t be the first time an infectious disease has influenced our home design.

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Man Working From Homevisualspace/Getty Images

Goodbye, business casual

Now that we’ve gotten so used to going about our workday in sweatpants and slippers, it will be hard to go back to whatever it was we wore to the office before. According to Yesenia Torres, the design director at ELOQUII, a plus-size fashion line, the next few months will see us remain loyal to our loungewear—and go all-out when we need to dress up. “[It’ll be] a tale of two occasions. The shift into casual will continue as we fall back in love with work-from-home casual pieces and cozy loungewear,” Torres tells Reader’s Digest. “But for those special occasions, whether IRL or virtual, we still think [a woman] wants to dress in her best.” Aside from impacting what we wear, the pandemic has also changed the way we’ll shop forever.

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Father showing laptop to daughter while mother cutting vegetables at table in houseMaskot/Getty Images

Rooms will serve multiple functions

Though open-plan homes and loft apartments with little distinction between rooms have been popular for the last 30 years or so, there’s a good chance that will change in the post-coronavirus era. “Times have changed, and people need different things from their homes,” says Shaun Osher, CEO and founder of CORE Real Estate NYC. Part of this involves having flexible rooms that can serve a variety of different functions, like a home office, meditation room, guest area, music room, library, or nursery. “Home buyers today are looking for a smart, efficient layout that provides flexibility with no wasted space or excess,” Osher notes. “We are starting to look at every square foot in the home and making sure the design intelligently responds to the buyer.”

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Concerned woman in her 30s on phone with laptop10'000 Hours/Getty Images

Working remotely will be the norm rather than the exception

Now that anyone who is able to work from home is doing so, expect this to be more widely accepted than it was before the pandemic. “Remote work will become standard practice, and policies will be in place to ensure people understand what is recommended for that workplace culture,” says Matt Burns, start-up ecosystem lead for Monday.com, a popular workplace platform. “Now that people know it can be done, I imagine many will question office space as a place for work, and rather it’ll become a place to celebrate, meet with clients, and gather as a team.”

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Preparing first cup of coffee in the morningAleksandarNakic/Getty Images

Companies will encourage us to take breaks

For many people, the idea of work-life balance is nonexistent, given that we’re now conducting many aspects of our lives at home. And with so much to do, it can be hard to take breaks—even though we know they’re beneficial for both our mind and body. In fact, a survey by Skynova found that 35 percent of employees worry about judgment from their manager for taking breaks while working from home, while 30 percent worry about judgment from their coworkers.

But once we return to the workplace, Burns thinks that employers will have a better understanding of the importance of stopping for a breather. “More companies will start to support these breaks officially,” he says. “A change of scenery can also make a big difference in your headspace. Even going to a different room to do some work can help get your brain thinking differently. When things return to normal, I can see people going out of the office more to clear their heads. Breaks to meditate or stretch will bring you the chance to collect your thoughts before going back to focus time.”

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Father combing daughter's hair while mother working over laptop at homeMaskot/Getty Images

“Invisible labor” may become more balanced

The COVID-19 pandemic has more of us working from home, making us hopeful that the weight of households’ “invisible labor”—unpaid work, like doing laundry or picking up kids from school—will become more evenly divided among men and women. But so far that hasn’t happened. While shifts to remote work have somewhat improved the distribution of household responsibilities, women still continue to take on more of the chores and shoulder more of the responsibility for overall household management, says Sian Beilock, PhD, a cognitive scientist and the president of Barnard College at Columbia University. “This negatively impacts women’s mental health, driving increased rates of anxiety and feelings of dissatisfaction,” she explains. “It can also impact their careers, as we’ve seen with women’s exodus from the workforce this past year—the expectation that women will serve as primary caregivers has been cited as a major reason for this.”

This puts us at a crucial crossroads. On the one hand, we may see a social regression, as hybrid work policies risk entrenching women further in the status quo as they attend to household and parental responsibilities. On the other hand, there are ways companies can ensure equal opportunity for their male and female employees. “One example is offering paid family and parental leave—as opposed to just maternity leave—and encouraging employees to take it,” Beilock says. “Another is ensuring managers do not favor in-person employees for mentorships, in evaluations or for other opportunities.”

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Businessman on video call from home during lockdownAlistair Berg/Getty Images

Get ready for even more workplace communication

Working from home has not only changed our location, but it has also meant significant shifts in management practices and communication. “We won’t measure success in the same way when we were next to each other,” predicts Gordon Willoughby, CEO of WeTransfer. “We’ll need to overcommunicate our boundaries and respect others’. [We’ll need to be] more up-front about our time and availability, so we can take the time we need and allow others to do the same.” Overall, this could mean some positive and much-needed changes that encourage employees to express their needs and concerns in the workplace.

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Horizontal shot of man passenger wears disposable medical mask to prevent virus, checks time on his watch, has hour for departure, poses in internation airport with suitcase and passport. CoronavirusViorel Kurnosov/Getty Images

Two passports may be required for international travel

Unsurprisingly, international travel will likely become more complicated and restrictive. “We believe that getting through customs, getting visas, and traveling through the airport in most major international cities will take significantly more time than before,” Neugarten says. Part of that will likely involve “vaccine passports” or “immunity passports”—some type of documentation proving that you are fully vaccinated. At this point, it’s unclear if (and exactly how) airlines, airports, and border control will handle these. There’s also the possibility that these vaccine passports could be required for domestic travel as well. If vaccine passports sound ethically complicated, that’s because they are. They raise questions about exacerbating existing travel-related inequities, as well as the potential forging of the documentation, Rolling Stone reports.

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Close-Up Of Dog Sticking Out Tongue While Sitting On Grassy FieldTamara Kirsanova/EyeEm/Getty Images

Animal shelters may need help again

One of the few heartwarming aspects of the last year has been how animal shelters were quickly cleared at the beginning of the outbreak, thanks to everyone being at home and having the time to foster a pet. While some foster fails have happily led to adoption, not everyone will be able to keep these foster pets. As a result, animal rescues may once again be filled with more animals than they can care for.

But at the moment, a year into the pandemic, many animal shelters are still running out of pets, because so many people have decided to adopt, the Washington Post reports. In fact, according to data from Shelter Animals Count, there were 26,000 more pet adoptions in 2020 than in 2019—a rise of around 15 percent. In addition to the pandemic, people have been inspired to adopt pets from shelters following the lead of President Joe Biden, who has a German Shepherd named Major that he and Dr. Jill Biden adopted from the Delaware Humane Association, just over two years ago. Major and big brother Champ join the ranks of other dogs that have resided in the White House, including Sunny and Bo Obama.

Of course, there’s still the concern that the novelty will wear off and that once the pandemic is over, people won’t be as interested in fostering or adopting pets. But at least for now, plenty of shelter pets are still landing in new homes.

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Delivery person holding bag at front doorThe Good Brigade/Getty Images

Food delivery will continue to be popular

One of the other positives that have come out of spending the last year living through a pandemic? Shopping has become more accessible. While meal delivery has been around for a long time, more restaurants are now offering this as an option. But while convenient for consumers, it’s not always great for businesses, which may earn very little from delivery orders but still need to keep them around to allow them to stay in business. Either way, the use of food delivery apps has more than doubled during the pandemic, according to Marketwatch.

However, new data from online grocer Mercato suggests that people may be looking forward to getting back to in-person grocery shopping. After subscription-based grocery orders increased more than 9,000 percent between February 2020 and the first week of April 2020, it’s hard to see how those figures could do anything but decline over time—which is exactly what’s been happening. Since reaching a peak in the spring of 2020, online and subscription-based grocery sales have fallen consistently—even as cases spiked in June 2020. But, at the same time, they’re still slightly higher than pre-pandemic levels. “Based on Mercato’s internal data, it appears that people are returning to normal habits with respect to grocery shopping, even in areas where the coronavirus is still heavily present,” a company spokesperson tells Reader’s Digest.

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Close up of a senior man consulting with a doctor on his laptopvorDa/Getty Images

Telehealth will likely stick around post-pandemic

We’ve already discussed how teletherapy will become more widely accepted (and used) even after the pandemic ends, but the same appears to be true of other types of telehealth—including routine health care visits. According to a study published in the journal Health Affairs in February 2021, 30.1 percent of all doctor visits occurred via telehealth since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, some appointments work better within the confines of a video visit than others. For example, the research indicated that 68 percent of endocrinologists used some type of telehealth during the pandemic, compared to only 9 percent of ophthalmologists. The same is true for individual conditions: 53 percent of appointments for depression took place via telehealth, compared to only 3 percent of visits related to glaucoma.

RELATED: Positive Ways the World May Change After Coronavirus

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Focused young man doing DIY project at home using measuring tape.Oscar Wong/Getty Images

Home renovations will continue

It was the perfect storm: people staying home, watching a lot of HGTV, and suddenly finding themselves with more time on their hands. We needed something to do on the evenings and weekends that we would have normally spent socializing, so we made improvements to our homes instead—or at least did some quarancleaning. But despite the similar circumstances (i.e., a global pandemic), people had different reasons for wanting to spruce up their home. According to a survey from Cinch Home Services, improving the comfort of their home was the top reason people made home-related purchases during the pandemic, prompting 57.2 percent to make some changes. This was followed by wanting to modify their home’s atmosphere (37.9 percent), improving home organization (29.8 percent), and improving mental health (23.5 percent).

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Excited family on a road trip in carmonkeybusinessimages/Getty Images

Domestic travel will stay on top (at least for a while)

While 2020 saw a steep decrease in all types of travel, one form became more popular than others: the road trip. In addition to cutting out the risk and hassle of flying, road trips offer more flexibility during a time when there are so many necessary precautions. Plus, it has helped that car rentals and gas have been cheaper than usual over the past year. To make things even more economical, many people have been opting to camp or stay in vacation rentals over hotels. In fact, the demand for hotels in the United States isn’t likely to see a full recovery until 2023, USA Today reports.

But don’t think that the road trip will die (or go back to its pre-COVID levels of popularity) as soon as more people get vaccinated: In a survey from VacationRenter, 74 percent of people said that they were more likely to take a road trip now, compared to before the pandemic. Interested in taking one yourself? Check out our Ultimate American Road Trip Guide for some travel inspiration and essential tips.

Sources:

  • Neil Leibowitz, MD, chief medical officer at Talkspace
  • Superdrug Online Doctor: “COVID-19’s Impact on Dating”
  • Domina Franco, sex educator and coach
  • Jesse Neugarten, founder of Dollar Flight Club
  • Business Travel News: “IATA: 2020 Was Worst Year Ever for Aviation Demand, and 2021 Off to a Bad Start”
  • Vishion: “Interior Design Tips for Your Zoom Meeting”
  • Yesenia Torres, the design director at ELOQUII
  • Shaun Osher, CEO and founder of CORE Real Estate NYC
  • Matt Burns, start-up ecosystem lead for Monday.com
  • Sian Beilock, PhD, a cognitive scientist and the president of Barnard College at Columbia University
  • Skynova: “Perception of Work Breaks”
  • Gordon Willoughby, CEO of WeTransfer
  • Rolling Stone: “Could Venues and Airlines Require Covid-19 Vaccinations for Entry?”
  • Washington Post: “So many pets have been adopted during the pandemic that shelters are running out”
  • Shelter Animals Count: “Data Summary”
  • MarketWatch: “The pandemic has more than doubled food-delivery apps’ business. Now what?”
  • Mercato: “How Covid-19 Affected Grocery Shopping Behavior in the US”
  • Health Affairs: “Variation in Telemedicine Use and Outpatient Care During the COVID-19 Pandemic in the United States”
  • Cinch Home Services: “Survey: People weigh in on their best home-related purchases during COVID-19”
  • USA Today: “Travelers are flocking to Airbnb, Vrbo more than hotels during COVID-19 pandemic. But why?”
  • Afar: “We Know We Traveled Less in 2020. But How Much Less?”
  • VacationRenter: “The Rise of the Great American Road Trip in 2020 and Beyond”

Elizabeth Yuko
Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is a bioethicist and writer specializing in health and the intersection of bioethics and popular culture. She is an adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham University and has written for print and online publications including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, Salon and Playboy, and has given a TEDX talk on The Golden Girls and bioethics.

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