Change happens slowly, then all at once, Hemingway wrote in “The Sun Also Rises.”

Take the National Health Service in Great Britain. Free nationwide health care had been debated in Parliament for decades, but it took World War II to make it happen. Once the war started and the Luftwaffe began raining German bombs down on English cities, health clinics were quickly established to provide free care.

“The wartime period necessitated the creation of the Emergency Hospital Service to care for the wounded, making these services dependent on the government,” according to an article in “Historic UK.” The House of Commons in 1948 easily passed the bill that established the NHS, which has been described as “… the institution which more than any other unites our nation.”

Much the same is happening here and now. After years of slow change in American customs and commerce, COVID-19 has had something like the impact of wartime. Great and sudden change is emerging as the pandemic lockdowns and restrictions force changes in the way we communicate, work, and learn. Combining the new with the old will result in a hybrid approach I call “The Age of Hybrid.”  

That’s already happening in schools and offices. Remote connections are proving more than adequate to get work done.

Businesses are leading the way. “The pandemic demystified the process of working from home and, as a result, many organizations are looking to a new hybrid model that combines remote work and office collaboration,” according to a November 2020 article in Forbes magazine.

Studies have shown that many employees are more productive and happier working from home. “More than 60% of those who are teleworking said they are enjoying the relaxed attire and grooming standards, greater flexibility and lack of a commute, and 78% said they are as effective or more so working from home,” says AARP.

Notwithstanding “Zoom fatigue,” that makes sense. Think of all the time saved not commuting to and from work and the money saved not having to replenish work apparel. No doubt some employees crave rubbing shoulders with their colleagues, and some businesses will insist that in-person collaboration is more productive than the virtual kind. But clearly, the hybrid model is here to stay in the business world.

Schools are another story. Everyone agrees kids should be back in class with their teachers and classmates as soon as safely possible. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Feb. 12 posted extensive guidelines on how to do just that. Accompanying the guidelines was the statement: “K-12 schools should be the last settings to close after all other mitigation measures in the community have been employed, and the first to reopen when they can do so safely. Many K-12 schools that have implemented mitigation strategies have been able to safely open for in-person instruction and remain open.”

Nevertheless, hybrid learning will continue to have a place in academia. Snow days will become a thing of the past: just plug into school online. Remote learning enables students to travel with their family and still attend school. My best friend’s son and his family are spending the winter in Rio de Janeiro with his wife’s family. The kids enjoy their grandparents and the pleasures of experiencing another culture (as well as way better weather), while still attending their local school almost 5,000 miles away in Bucks County, Penn.

In hundreds if not thousands of other ways, people have made COVID-19 adjustments that amount to hybrid workarounds. A May 20 article in the AARP magazine listed 10, among which were:

Telemedicine: “Along with cutting out hassles like parking and waiting-room time, video visits make it easier for family members to observe and participate, a big boon for caregivers,” AARP said.

Grocery shopping: “More than half of those who purchased groceries online said the COVID crisis made them more likely to keep doing so permanently,” one study reported. “The results show ‘an inflection point’ in consumer demand,” according to the study, “‘a more sustainable and permanent shift’ in how we buy food.”

Staying in touch: A year ago most of us had never heard of Zoom. Now we’re happily chatting away online with friends and family. My wife has Zoom meetings with two sets of far-flung friends every week, and not to be outdone I Zoom every Sunday with cousins who live in New York; Washington, D.C.; and Denver, and every Monday with high school friends who live in New York and Portland, Me. Reconnecting with them so regularly has led to a new, more intimate level of friendship that I cherish.

A Feb. 14 New York Times article describes how people are monetizing their hobbies to help make ends meet or replace lost jobs. There’s a DIY trend underway, too. Sales of yeast, sweatpants, and bicycles have shot up, as people stuck at home rediscover the joys of breadmaking, dressing down, and cycling.

Some of the post-pandemic world will be troubling, however. The trend to online shopping has only accelerated during lockdown. UPS, FedEx, and Amazon trucks are everywhere, bringing the world to our doorsteps. That has exacerbated the “retail apocalypse” we are seeing in Evanston and elsewhere. Hard to say how long it will take for all those vacant storefronts to be reoccupied.

Other dominoes are falling from this new Age of Hybrid. Companies with fewer workers on site at any given time will likely be shrinking their physical footprint. That extra space can be converted to residential units. Hopefully that will bring down the extravagant cost of real estate in places like Manhattan and San Francisco.

And what of screen time? It’s possible that students and their parents, sick of all the Zoom classwork and Zoom meetings, will opt to disconnect from their devices and actually make their way outside. What is that strange yellow orb in the sky?

Personal hygiene is hybridizing too. I can be wearing jeans, sweats or shorts on Zoom and no one will know. Until 5G comes along and a sharper image is possible, it’s impossible to say whether I’ve shaved. Good: I’ve gone to every other day or even every third day.

 Of course, some slovenliness can get to be too much. When I inquired about getting a green screen backdrop for one of my Zoom meetings, I was told I didn’t need it: With my hair reaching lengths unseen since my hippie days, I might be Einstein. Who needed a green screen when you resembled the greatest scientist of all time.

 I took it as a compliment. But maybe not.

Les Jacobson

Les is a longtime Evanstonian and RoundTable writer and editor. He won a Chicago Newspaper Guild best feature story award in 1975 for a story on elderly suicide and most recently three consecutive Northern...

2 replies on “Les Jacobson: The Age of Hybrid”

  1. After having just read your article and waking up from a Rip Van Winkle length nap I had an epiphany. Right now we are dealing with what is talked about in literature as the four types of conflict in any novel but it is happening in real lives and they are: one man versus self, Man versus Society, Man versus environment Ant-Man versus another person. Well I look forward to a denoument or climax and I like surprises I don’t like bad ones and for this reason I tend to over prepare as much as I can. That said nothing could have prepared us for this in a certain way and yet I feel Obama’s plan with this type of thing I think a lot of this could have been avoided had we not had a certain person in the office who I shall call 45. Interesting how 45 is also the number of a revolver and also interesting that everything revolved around him. The previous White House Administration did such a botched-up job and got us to a place of dare I say it Armageddon? Things that I never would have thought before like conspiracy theories and control by Foreign governments are in fact or reality evidence by things like breaking in 2A water supply in Florida which could have killed many people had someone not been sitting at their computer. The other imagery that comes to mind is John Travolta’s movie from when I was a kid called The Boy in the Plastic Bubble and for me and my mind it collides with Arizona’s disaster experiment also known as the biosphere. So now what? What is the way forward? But one thing’s for sure time to stop navel gazing and making it what’s it in it for me is what a former colleague at leadership Evanston called that when she worked for Disney. We are only as strong as the weakest link and money won’t save any of us right now because if people are not provided with Basics like a roof over their head, Healthcare and not working a zillion hours which could get them sick and infect the whole population we’re screwed. Now is yet again the time to level or think about leveling the playing field as was very carefully thought about by the team who did the Robert Crown development. There were many people including myself on this team who did this gratis and there are many reasons for it. I bet many people don’t know that the ice basically pays for the summer to run and 25 to 33% of the population in Evanston doesn’t even have Wi-Fi which means kids can’t do their homework. Also if there are policing issues kids can go there to dribble the ball, go on the ice, go to the library or walk the track and the hours are open from 5:30 a.m. until midnight. I would like to recognize Community member Pete Giangreco who worked tirelessly along with many others including Mike Davis, Leslie Ruegsegger Wehyrich and Dan Stein to make this dream a reality. Rather than be what’s called a caver or citizens against virtually everything now is the time to start rowing the boat to figure out what is right and vibrate at a higher level of consciousness it is the only thing
    that will save us. Who’s in?

Comments are closed.