Growing Our Adaptability Skill During and After the Pandemic

On March 15, 2020 the world was forced to adapt. Healthcare systems across the world had to learn how to manage the Coronavirus. The Covid pandemic shaped different systems around the world, changing the way we live, work, and learn. Now that the world is returning to some form of pre-pandemic normalcy, we are all going through another transition of adaptation. In March, we had to learn how to work remotely and socialize virtually, but adapting back to a world we yearned for during COVID isn’t as easy as it may have seemed. 

The COVID pandemic has greatly increased our need to strengthen our “adaptability muscle”, as McKinsey & Company calls it. Different professional fields were forced to adapt in their own ways. Educators and students alike greatly adapted to new learning environments as they transitioned to online learning. Students adapted to a dual home-school environment, juggling different familial responsibilities while trying to keep up with school. Educators also had to remain on their toes, adjusting to the needs of the students and developing lesson plans far different from those conducted before the pandemic. Healthcare workers in all capacities also had to adjust greatly as their main priority was stopping the spread of COVID-19. Some facilities adjusted their protocols and directed personnel and resources towards stopping the virus. Even with the vaccines, healthcare systems must adapt to differing sentiments regarding vaccines, and health communicators must use adaptability (and other soft skills) to communicate updated mandates. 

In an era of changing times and “the new normal”, the truth is we will always be adapting in our lives and even more so as long as issues like the pandemic and climate change affect our social, political and economic systems. 

McKinsey & Company’s report on adaptability states, “We don’t just “bounce back” from difficult situations—we “bounce forward” into new realms, learning to be more adaptable as our circumstances evolve and change”  As we transition back to in-person learning and work, we are no longer going back to the world we once knew. Not only are we still in a pandemic, but we are going back to a cautious society that is less virtual than the one we adapted to. 

Furthermore, we are changed as humans as well, and interacting with each other is different than when we interacted with each other pre-pandemic for the better and for the worse. We have a better understanding of our mental health needs, one of the few positives that emerged from the pandemic, and perhaps we have even developed our empathy skills by understanding how to take care of one another. 

Nevertheless, despite our growing opportunities to empathize, our changed personalities may have made it a bit more difficult to adapt back to a hybrid world. The way we communicate with each other has changed as well. I find myself accustomed to Zoom interactions in-person, waiting for the other person in a conversation to finish a thought or complete sentences, rather than an in-person conversation in which it is more acceptable to communicate via body language and in short phrases. In a world where hard conversations can be escaped via texts or emails or even behind a video chat icon, we must remember how to make certain conversations less awkward, such as asking your professor for an extension or sharing a valuable, yet vulnerable statement during a group discussion. 

This fall season, we continue to learn how to adapt to a changing environment, using the tools of adaptability and empathy we strengthened during the pandemic as we experience this transition from online work to hybrid work. Those who never went virtual for work, such as our essential workers, also continue to adapt to changing situations regarding the COVID pandemic as vaccines roll out and children begin to receive the vaccine. Retail employees, communicators, city officials and others working with the public also adapt to changing regulations and guidelines on how to keep each other safe as we continue on a path towards healing. 

They say that challenges make us stronger, and the people we will be once we reach full herd immunity will be different from who we are now and who we were in March 2020. How we learn to adapt, empathize, be culturally competent and curious and see the world in a 360-degree perspective will only make us better leaders and change-makers in a future filled with complex challenges where anything can arise unexpectedly.