2021 & Why We Don’t Want to Return to Normal After All

January 2020 feels like years ago! We unknowingly made so many plans for the new year ahead of us. Yet, in just a few months, vacations, conferences, parties, graduations, and even going to the office all disappeared or dramatically changed. As we worked our way through the twists and turns of 2020, we learned a lot about ourselves. These potential surprises hold the keys to making 2021and the years ahead different and better.


The unplanned 2020 surprises include:


We can change rapidly – when we have no choice.

We all made dramatic changes to our work and life in record time. In a matter of weeks, most organizations were 100% virtual, and offices were closed. Sales channels and customer needs looked very different almost overnight. Entire industries turned upside down. Outside forces overshadowed us, unlike any market changes we had ever encountered before.


Yet, we figured out how to mobilize quickly and get the work done in a new way. We can no longer say we can’t adapt or that we are slow to change. We all did it when we had to do it – and often with great success. 


Let’s carry this memory of our true change capabilities with us in the years to come. We were much more resilient, innovative, and quick to change than we could have ever imagined because we had no choice. 


We can get a lot done without being physically together.

By April, teams rapidly adjusted to working with every team member in a different location. Collaboration required technology, and we relied on Zoom as video calls became a normal part of the workday. We also realized that we could do a lot without traveling to meet in person for a three-hour meeting.


In the past, organizations often viewed virtual or ‘remote’ working as an exception. These assumptions were tested in 2020. There were significant savings when travel stopped, and work was getting done even with an empty office. Employees embraced the benefits of dinner with the family and no commute. The challenges were many – including kids adapting to virtual school and the dining room table as a desk. Yet, the upsides of virtual working will reshape employee expectations of employers for years to come.


Of course, once we can safely interact with others, more travel and in-person meetings will resume but probably not like in 2019. We’ve proven that we can work without being together – because we’ve done it.


We’ve reset our definition of normal.


Resilience and comfort with ambiguity are ‘must-have’ capabilities for leaders.

This year leaders faced rapid-fire changes significantly more than most had ever encountered before. Changes came from well beyond their role, their team, and even their company. The world became a different place. Creative solutions and ideas likely considered crazy less than a year ago were big successes. The forward-looking leaders quickly adapted to new circumstances and started rewriting the playbook to bring others along with them. 


The contrast was stark to leaders with a foothold in the past. These leaders continued to return to ‘when we get back to normal’ or ‘we can make this work for a few months.’ The silent resistance to accepting and adapting to a new, dramatically different situation impacted the success of teams and organizations.



This year has been full of surprises and disappointments. We all hope that 2021will eventually help us return to large gatherings, travel without worry again, and get-togethers with people we love. While we anticipate glimpses of normalcy that we’ve all missed – we have all learned so much about ourselves this year. The possibilities look pretty different than they did this past January. We’ve proven we can do much more than we ever imagined.


Returning to the same old normal may not be what we want after all.