How the pandemic is still ruining our plans

·3 min read

Two years ago, it was easy to know what your office, your commute, your neighborhood or your kid’s school would look like in coming months. Not any more.

What's happening: First the pandemic upended our plans, and now its aftermath is breaking our predictions.

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Why it matters: The new ways of living, working and playing that this era ushers in will put millions of jobs and trillions of dollars in play.

  • "We’ve all been living with uncertainty that we’ve not had in a generation," says Luis Bettencourt, an expert on urban innovation at the University of Chicago. "What comes next is really interesting because we’ll all reevaluating our lives."

The structure of cities is changing, as telework allows people to move around. "A city is the balance between where people live and where people work," says Bettencourt. "This balance is now all up for grabs."

  • Superstar cities like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago are losing people to smaller places like Charlotte, Portland and Reno.

  • The cities themselves are changing, too. Outdoor dining and entertainment — popularized by pandemic-era social distancing — has been a hit and is pushing cities to rethink how streets and parks look.

Our jobs and workplaces are changing. Companies are deciding what the future looks like, and for most, it'll be a mix of staying home and going into the office. But no one knows what that actually means.

  • Record numbers of Americans are leaving their jobs. Many of them are doing so because the pandemic gave them time to reflect on their careers, and they decided to switch fields. Many others are quitting because their organizations won't allow remote work and they want to stick with teleworking after the pandemic.

  • "Employees have gained a little power now that they didn’t have before," says Anthony Klotz, an associate professor of management at Texas A&M University. "That's a big shift."

The way we learn is changing. The pandemic's disruption of education will take years to recover from, but some of the new technology forced upon teachers and students could push learning forward.

  • Many schools and startups are coming up with new ideas — like changing lesson structures or doing away with letter grades — to shake up the old ways in education.

  • Tech could also allow educators to personalize lessons for individual students.

The way we get around is changing, as the pandemic upended our transportation habits.

  • Car sales have spiked as more people moved to the suburbs or bought a vehicle to have a safer way to get places during the worst months of the pandemic.

  • Transit agencies are hurting as lots of travel and commuting stopped for more than a year.

  • At the same time, labor shortages have made ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft more expensive and less accessible. People who’ve relied on those will have to look to other modes of getting around.

What we do for fun is changing, as doing cool stuff from your house becomes a permanent part of play.

  • Just like hybrid offices or schools, hybrid entertainment — like virtual concerts with big budgets — is becoming more popular.

  • "Lots of people have a habit like, 'I go out to dinner every Friday night,'" says University of Michigan economist Betsey Stevenson. "Those habits got smashed. Now, do you go back to having dinner out every Friday night or do you keep the replacement plan that you came up with at home?"

The art of predicting what's next is itself falling apart.

"It’s a hard time for forecasting," Stevenson says. "What we normally do with forecasting is just assume preferences are going to be stable. But we just had the biggest shock to preferences we’ve ever seen."

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