“Liminal spaces are transitional or transformative spaces. They are the waiting areas between one point in time and the next. Often, when we are in liminal spaces, we have the feeling of just being on the verge of something”.
Christiana Figueres brilliantly captured the opportunity presented by the pandemic-induced liminal space last week on NBC News:
“What we cannot afford to do is to jump out of the frying pan of COVID and into the raging fire of climate change”.
And whilst we rightly remain intently focused on the humanitarian challenges thrown-up by COVID-19, it is undeniable that the pandemic has made politicians, policy makers, investors, businesses and citizens alike, pause for reflection on what the future holds.
For me, the most in-your-face liminal observation(s) relates to our, and many professionals, current (new) way of working. Will we rush back to our offices and abandon video calls and remote working as soon as lockdown ends? And perhaps more importantly, what are the likely outcomes if we all stay working from our bedrooms and kitchens?
I think it is likely that we will see a shift from occasional home/remote working, to it becoming a larger component of some individuals’ working week from hereon. Will offices even be required post COVID-19? I think the answer is probably yes – we will definitely need offices. But we are likely to see a different need and purpose for commercial space emerge which will be more oriented towards facilitating colleague (and customer) interaction and supporting face-to-face collaboration, rather than them being places where work is just done; in essence, focusing on the vital essentials of building social capital, cohesion, rapport and in many instances, friendship. Aspects that are often essential ingredients to enable effective remote working.
With camera-on meetings now our ‘new norm’, it isn’t just day-to-day business that is changing; conferences, networking events and collaborative workshops are also shifting to virtual – with obvious lower costs for attending, environmental impacts and higher turnout rates. Greater participation and collaboration to share knowledge and drive change has to be good, right?
But it obviously doesn’t stop there. Christmas Day-like levels of vehicle use mean more people have taken to their bikes – and not only those workers who are still commuting, but those of us getting our daily exercise fix, or popping to the local convenience supermarket. And it is encouraging to hear that northern England political leaders (Andy Burnham and Steve Rotherham) want to seize this liminal moment to press the reset button, which logically requires deeper consideration of Edmund King’s (President of the Automobile Association) suggestion to swap investment from continued highways development to superfast broadband.
Are you still wearing your everyday work wear? Me neither. Joggers, sweatshirts and slides are our new ‘office wear’ and there have even been suggestions that reduced office-based working could result in a reduction in the demand for cosmetics and related products.
So as today is Earth Day, the questions in everyone’s minds have to be: is this period of global lockdown truly liminal? Is “the future already here (and is it now more) evenly distributed”? Or are we going to jump “into the raging fire of climate change” once lockdown is lifted? Whilst it would be naive to consider things won’t go back entirely to our ways of living and working pre-COVID-19, let’s hope that some of our new-found behaviours will stick for good.