If you had told us on New Year’s Eve 2019 that two years from now we’d still be dealing with a devastating and ongoing pandemic, we probably wouldn’t have taken too kindly to the news.
Alas, as we close out year two of the global coronavirus crisis, the reality is now painfully clear. The “new normal” isn’t so new anymore now. And though we have vaccines, there’s still a lot to feel anxious about: New variants continue to crop up and unnerve us, people are still getting sick with COVID-19, not everyone has been vaccinated, and the overarching stress of it all can be hard to take in.
Still, there have been some surprising silver linings to the last two years when you think about it. While we’re all ready to leave the awfulness of the COVID-19 behind us, there are some facets of pandemic life we really, really hope to take with us into the new year. Below, we highlight 11 of them.
The option to work from home
We’d be remiss if we didn’t bring up working from home high up on our list. While not everyone had the luxury of working remotely (and we need to be cognizant of that when we obsessively debate and discuss the topic), we’re hopeful that more employers will see the continued benefits of a largely hybrid or remote workforce.
Contrary to some higher-ups’ beliefs, research shows that productivity doesn’t automatically suffer when workers work out of the office, and the pandemic has only further proven this. In a survey of about 800 employers by Mercer, a workplace benefits consulting firm, most companies said employee productivity actually stayed the same (67%) or was higher (27%) than it was before the pandemic, even though many of these companies’ employees have been working remotely.
While we’re on the subject of pandemic-inspired shifts in the workplace, let’s talk accessibility: The last few years proved that accessibility at work and in our social lives is not only critical for those in the disability community, it’s something that can easily be done. So why not do it? People without disabilities obviously benefit, too; the rise of Zoom and other video conferencing apps was a great boon for friends and family who’ve moved far away but still want to partake in parties and other social activities.
The widespread acceptance of staying home
Finally, even extroverts seem to understand that sometimes, all you need after a busy workweek is a night to decompress and treat yourself however you see fit. (Food delivery, a long bath and a murder doc on a Friday night? Bring. It. On.)
Our awareness of unhealthy habits — especially ‘gray area’ drinking
Many of us used alcohol to cope during the hardest days of the pandemic. Now, many are getting more mindful about their drinking habits. People are more open to reconsidering their “gray area” drinking ― a nonclinical term used to describe people who drink with regularity, but do not meet clinical criteria for alcohol dependence.
What’s more, businesses are catering to the growing number of folks considering sobriety: Today more nonalcoholic spirits are on the market than ever. And a number of bars have cropped up recently that exclusively serve craft cocktails without the booze. We’ll cheers (with something booze-free) to that!
The normalization of mental health days
You’ve earned your sick time, vacation and personal days ― and given the heightened stress you’re likely under the last few years, you probably really need them, even if you’re doing “nothing” for the day. (It’s not like there were many places to go peak-pandemic anyway.)
Some companies are even offering their employees mental health days, on top of their regular paid time off. That kind of holistic support benefits both the company and the worker: An October 2021 Harvard Business Review study found that employees who felt supported with their mental health overall were 26% less likely to report at least one symptom of a mental health condition in 2021. People who felt supported by their employer were also generally less likely to “experience mental health symptoms, less likely to underperform and miss work, and more likely to feel comfortable talking about their mental health at work.”
Candid discussions about personal boundaries
Two years into our endless COVID-19 nightmare, many of us are still doing risk assessments in our heads before going out. That’s entirely OK ― it can be nerve-wracking to hear about breakthrough cases and new virus variants with so much regularity.
Because everyone has formulated their own unique ideas about safety and risks, we’ve gotten a whole lot better at discussing our boundaries: what get-togethers are worth going to, which we’d rather skip. Basically, we’ve learned how to say, “Hey, I don’t really feel comfortable doing that,” and not feel sorry about it.
Conversations about race and why it matters in America
The start of the pandemic coincided with a long-overdue racial awakening in America, and the virus itself continues to shine a light on long-standing health disparities for people of color in America: Rates of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths have disproportionately hit Black and Latino communities the hardest during the pandemic.
More and more, Americans are understanding how race plays a critical role in nearly every facet of our society, from our health care options to access to education and food equity (or the ability to grow or find affordable, healthy food in your neighborhood). Let’s work on changing that from here on out.
Our acknowledgement that toxic productivity is a real problem and that work shouldn’t be our sole identity
If 2021 was the year we recognized how pervasive toxic productivity is in American work culture, let’s make 2022 the year we accept that “good enough” is, generally speaking, truly good enough. For those who need a refresher, toxic productivity is essentially an unhealthy drive to be productive at all times, at all costs ― even with your free time during the lockdown-era of COVID-19. Remember when everyone wanted to learn how to bake bread, learn a new language and start an Etsy side hustle, all at the same time?
On a similar note: As our work lives and personal lives continue to bleed into each other, it’s majorly refreshing to read think pieces about how unhealthy it is for our identities to be tied up in our careers. We’re so much more than who we are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
A friend circle that’s about quality, not quantity
If your friend circle is feeling a little less robust lately, you’re not alone. But look on the bright side: Chances are, the friends who’ve stuck by you are people you’ve actively worked to keep in your life (and vice versa) and it’s likely that the pandemic only strengthened your bond.
Our deemphasis on looking picture-perfect all the damn time
Makeup schmakeup: For many of us who used to spend 45 minutes putting on a full face of makeup before heading into the office, the switch to remote work had an added bonus: We didn’t feel compelled to do the whole routine anymore.
Though it’s a highly personal choice ― if you feel more confident and more you with makeup on, it’s entirely your prerogative ― there’s no denying that a full morning beauty regimen is a major time killer. In 2014, the “Today” show crunched the numbers and found that the average woman devotes approximately 55 minutes to her daily beauty prep routine, which equates to roughly 335 hours — or two full weeks — of self-pampering per year. If you used that time to sleep in in 2021, more power to you.
Finally, can we all just mutually agree to keep 6 feet apart forever now? Great, thanks so much.