Tomorrowland

Pondering the future effects of a year spent in quarantine.

 

By Leslie Griffy and Tracy Seipel. Illustrations By Martin Gee

Adapt

The fingerprints of COVID-19 appear in surprising places. The 2020-21 flu season, like many sports seasons, was virtually nonexistent. But will a lost year of Little League mean fewer young sports phenoms on future baseball diamonds? Adoption of online shopping was already happening—and then a fear of public spaces kicked it into overdrive. Will we pick up birthday presents curbside in 2025? And, as many people have missed and lost friends and family during the dark winter, will we be kinder when we emerge, vaccinated and ready to hug again? How will we be different when this is all said and done?

Santa Clara Magazine explored the possible futures with experts in fields from shopping to believing, and beyond.

Grocery shopping while binge-watching? Yes, please!

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Shoppers turned online as infection rates made them hesitant to go out, and public health orders closed many physical retail spaces. That’s the so-called e-commerce acceleration effect, says Kirthi Kalyanam, the L.J. Skaggs Distinguished Professor and executive director of SCU’s Retail Management Institute. “Ten years of growth was compressed into eight weeks! That meant retailers moved quickly to add curbside pickup, mini-warehouses in stock rooms, and created more space to handle in-store returns. These changes are here to stay.” All of that time we collectively spent, alone, figuring out online grocery shopping makes us less likely to turn away from it—particularly as people see a benefit in time saved by not having to go to the store, Kalyanam says. People who were reluctant users of online shopping tools are even more likely to keep using them, as it was harder for them to make the switch and will be tough to change yet again. However, all isn’t rosy in the world of e-shopping. What happens when those pants aren’t a perfect fit is e–commerce’s most significant weak spot. “Buying online lacks the excitement and touch and feel consumers get from in-store buying, which can lead to a high rate of return,” and something stores certainly saw over the holidays, Kalyanam says. “That’s why, in some categories like apparel and soft goods, e-commerce gains may not be here to stay.” So, groceries from the couch—yes! Sweaters, maybe not so much.

You’ve seen my house. Can we still work together?

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Thanks to stay-at-home orders, our former officemates know more about us than ever. With computers perched on kitchen tables, they’ve peered into our living rooms, bedrooms, and parenting styles during an endless parade of video meetings. “The experience of this year will certainly shift cultural dynamics once we get back to the office,” says Jo-Ellen Pozner, assistant professor of management at the Leavey School of Business. “Hopefully, we can navigate those changes by working to ensure that we use our new knowledge of the whole person to deepen connections and increase empathy.” As workers learned more about one another, they’ve also shared the difficult experiences of 2020 and 2021, a combo that can deepen bonding. “That increased cohesion can have all sorts of positive organizational benefits, like improved team functioning and faster speed to consensus,” she says. Working from home also removes some of the trappings of hierarchy—there is no corner office, and there are less likely to be considerable differences in dress. “It is easier to see colleagues as equals, rather than subordinates or superiors,” Pozner says. In these ways, the pandemic has the potential to make workers better people to one another. If, that is, bias doesn’t creep in. “Problematically, exposing all of the details of our lives may increase rather than diminish unconscious bias,” she says. “Watching a parent try to focus on a meeting when their children keep interrupting might lead one to question—unfairly—their commitment and their competence. The introduction of bias is even more likely when those with different personal arrangements, like no children or a stay-at-home spouse, appear to carry on as if nothing had changed.” Also, there are times when it is just nice to be rather than to be a worker. When work comes home, that line becomes trickier. “Some people enjoy sharing their lives with their colleagues, but some are happier keeping aspects of their lives compartmentalized.”

The kids’ hands are clean, but they still need us.

Plenty will be written about the pandemic’s impact on children. From sheltering in place to class over a computer, young people and their parents faced unheard-of challenges, says Kathy Stoehr, associate professor of education. Playgrounds were padlocked, and kids studied away from their peers. Parents, juggling work from home or outside the house, attempted to be playmate, teacher, and parent with varying degrees of success. When everyone goes back to school, how will the youngest shut-ins manage? Few can relate to their current social situation. Significantly, parents understand that their children need to see other children—as soon as possible. “Families have had to rethink if, how, and when they want their children to interact with their friends.

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Many children may be deeply feeling the loss of spending time with their peers at school,” Stoehr says. Adjusting to being back in school around larger groups of people will be its own challenge. “Some time will need to be spent on helping them learn or relearn important social skills needed to regain confidence, self-awareness, and empathy for others.” But, it isn’t all bad. The importance of handwashing at schools is likely the easiest lesson preschoolers picked up over the past year. Stoehr now predicts that routine will be “something children do without questioning, and will become as natural to children as tying their shoes.” That could save everyone from future colds. The fragility of our health and our communities has also shined a light on how we can better care for children. The pandemic also taught schools and food banks important lessons about access to food when the physical schools are not in session. “I expect to see more people and communities rallying together with financial and volunteer support to supply food to people who are struggling to feed their families,” says Stoehr. “I believe this effort will continue in the future, as the pandemic has taught us all how vulnerable we all are.”

Pivot to your own thing.

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As COVID-19 spread, some jobs evaporated. “What do you do when your job—or business—disappears with only a few days’ notice?” asks Chris Norris, executive director of the Ciocca Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “The COVID-19 pandemic put the lack of control we have over our livelihood in stark perspective.” And, many people seized that opportunity for entrepreneurship in the face of hard times. “The necessity to provide for our families and the inherent human need to control our destiny has created a renewed interest in the entrepreneurial mindset,” says Norris. “What better way to chart your path, and create a resilient business, than to start your own? Quick-thinking business owners and would-be entrepreneurs are pivoting or starting new businesses every day.”

People responded to the pandemic’s economic pain with an entrepreneurial mindset, from pop-up meal kits to home sanitation to web development. Even businesses that were long thought of as married to their brick-and-mortar storefronts tried something new in the conditions COVID-19 created. Breweries and distilleries stepped up to meet increased demand for hand sanitizer. Other small businesses have adapted in other ways. “I predict that some of these efforts will continue past the end of the pandemic and change the way these businesses operate in the long run,” says Drew Starbird MBA ’84, a professor in operations management. And some businesses will continue to thrive after people begin to gather again. “Take home fitness as an example; that market is booming with new entrants virtually every day,” Norris says. “Virtual escape rooms, telehealth doctor visits, and of course, education are all getting a makeover during the pandemic.” Some of these may be among the few things people want to leave a lasting imprint, when all is said and done.

Let us break bread together.

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Those with a spiritual practice may find that time away from their physical places of worship has deepened the faith they have, says Dennis Smolarski, S.J., math and computer science professor. “Religious faith usually has a communal dimension as well as a personal dimension,” he says. That communal dimension is expressed by gathering in worship or reaching out to those in need. The personal is found in reflection, meditation, or prayer—or during the pandemic’s early months, in baking bread as home cooks seized on the trend of making sourdough as a sort of Zen, mindfulness practice. Pandemic restrictions will have little lasting impact on the faith of some. Others, those who are the most vulnerable, may feel the absence of communal worship more profoundly, says Fr. Smolarski. “As a result, some may come to a deeper realization of how important their religious faith is to them.” Those who find their faith best nurtured in that private practice may find themselves emerging from the pandemic with deepened purpose and meaning. “Sheltering in place and the related closures have provided some with more personal time. People may have used the opportunity to reflect on the blessings they enjoy, to spend more time in prayer, and to reconnect, albeit virtually, with family and friends in new and different ways,” Smolarski says. Discovering gratitude through space, hardship, and perseverance could put things in a different light when we can gather and break bread together again.

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Santa Clara Magazine sat down with Assistant Professor Danielle Morgan to explore how laughter can be lifesaving—and life-affirming

Value Proposition

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Taking Note

Sit for a while with John S. Farnsworth, who taught environmental writing and literature at Santa Clara, for a journey into nature.

The Gift

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