Pandemic Predictions – Looking Into the Crystal Ball

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November 5, 2021
September 15, 2021

Pandemic Predictions – Looking Into the Crystal Ball 

Yogi Berra infamously said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” The greatest anxiety for humans is the anxiety of the unknown. So we make predictions to try to understand and prepare for an unknown future.

Unlike physics or chemistry, psychology is a relatively new science. Being new, it has relatively few laws. One of them, which is often misquoted is, “The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, given the same circumstances.” The last phrase is the one that is most often forgotten — and it’s the most important. When circumstances change, we must look at similar circumstances from the past to try to predict what lies ahead.

The world is still in the middle of a pandemic. To understand what comes next, to make any educated guess of what the future might hold, we must look at past pandemics and plagues to see how human behavior was affected, and how it changed as these past pandemics transpired over time. Fortunately for us, Dr. Nicholas Christakis, who has studied pandemics and plagues, has done exactly that. Christakis, a physician and social scientist at Yale University, is the author of “Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live.” 

In his book, he suggests that we can think of the Covid-19 pandemic in three phases: 

Immediate Period

Now through approx. end of 2021.

In this phase, we are experiencing the biological and epidemiological shock of the virus. The virus will continue to spread until we reach herd immunity threshold through vaccination or natural infection and recovery. This requires us to live in a changed world – wearing masks, social distancing and enduring periodic school and business closures. Historically, in times of plague, people become more religious, stay at home, become more constrained. Hopefully, through the virus’s natural spread or though vaccinations, we will reach herd immunity by about end of 2021.

Intermediate Period 

End of 2021 through approx. end of 2023.

During the intermediate period, we will begin to recover from the psychological, social and economic impact of the virus. Based on current data, for every person who dies from the pandemic, about five will be seriously and permanently disabled. Millions of people will need ongoing care for chronic medical conditions, even after the immediate mortality impact of the pandemic is behind us.  

Trends that began in the immediate period will either be solidified or be reduced within new cultural norms. We are likely to see many fits and starts of old trends trying to regain traction.  During the intermediate period, new norms will be established for behaviors such as quick-turn business travel that has been shown to be unnecessary due to virtual platforms, telehealth, lab assessments for medical exams, logistics and supply chains, and co-located work teams. 

Post Pandemic Period 

Beginning approx. 2024.

The post pandemic period will be defined by a universal lifting of the social and psychological constraints experienced through the intermediate period. It is likely to be a bit like the Roaring ‘20s of 20th century, which followed the 1918 influenza pandemic. Hardships and struggles that were endured during the pandemic will suddenly be reversed. People are likely to become less religious and to relentlessly seek out social opportunities, restaurants, bars, sporting events, theater and musical performances, etc.  

Some changes we made during the pandemic will likely stick:

  • Using virtual platforms will make much business travel unnecessary.
  • Telehealth is proving to be an exceedingly viable alternative to in-person doctor visits, particularly for those in rural remote areas, as well as those with transportation and mobility challenges.
  • The pandemic’s disruption of supply chains already has companies reconsidering logistics and moving and/or sourcing required materials closer to home.
  • The workforce has learned that, for many people, there is no need to commute every day to earn a living. As we’ve covered in previous blogs, hybrid work is here to stay (much to the chagrin of many senior executives).

Because humanity has been unable to quickly reach a herd immunity threshold, Covid-19 will likely become endemic, or as prevalent as a common cold virus. Humanity will see the other side of this, but some trends we see developing now will remain with us.

This pandemic isn’t over. What are you doing to prepare your workplace culture for the intermediate period? Are you moving toward a culture that embraces a hybrid workforce, as we have been discussing here? Do you already have one? Have you been able to find talent beyond commuting distance because of your culture?

I’d love to hear your questions and comments. If you would like to discuss this topic further, just drop me a note

Until then, let’s keep cultivating our culture, together!

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