“When can we go back to normal?”

Reframe the outcome of an unwanted change to a new desired state.

How many of your conversations start with: “When we get back to normal…”?

Around the world, the COVID-19 outbreak is disrupting every routine and plan. We are in the midst of a change that was not deliberate or desired.

One response is to tolerate and endure this new reality in hope that we can return to life as we knew it before the global outbreak.

Another option is to reframe the goal of this change: let’s define and work towards a new desired state. We can accept the unwanted change and then leverage the opportunities and challenges that we are experiencing to contribute to a new reality.

Instead of waiting to go back to normal, we can define a new desired future state.


Three stages of change

The typical change sequence is:


The current state is our definition of “normal” and the desired state is where we hope to be when the change is complete. The process to transition from the current to desired state is the change state.

In many change efforts, the change is initiated because there are clear and defined benefits in achieving the desired state. A purpose or goal is identified, and then we determine the optimal path to go from our current to desired state.

However, that sequence is not always possible – there are scenarios where the change was not anticipated or planned.

The return to normal

In the situation we are experiencing with the COVID-19 outbreak, it is understandable that the preferred change sequence is:


We hope to return to a state that we understand – where our current health and economic struggles did not exist. And we want to avoid achieving a state that is less desirable than what we are used to.

In hope of returning to normal, we are tolerating the change and waiting until it is over.

In this situation, there’s another option. When it is not possible to control change, we can adapt to our new environment and learn from the experience.


Defining a new desired state

Is the best path forward a complete return to the “normal” state?

This situation has pushed many of us into a new reality where we have been innovative and resilient. Instead of returning to normal, the alternative is to leverage the benefits and challenges of the change to achieve a state that takes us in directions we did not see as possible before.

To help define a new desired state, here are some questions to ask:


  • What can we learn from our current living and working situations?
  • What are the benefits or opportunities that we are experiencing? Let’s not lose those.
  • What are the challenges or obstacles that we are experiencing? How do we avoid them in the future?
  • How has this improved our working relationships, capabilities and behaviors?
  • How has this impacted our culture?
  • What can we bring with us (such as new processes, systems, or structures) to the new desired state?


This change is far from expected and desired. It has an impact on every individual’s daily routine, and the health and economic impacts run the gamut from minimal to devastating, some with lasting consequences.

We can make the most out of the situation by reframing our future. Instead of tolerating the change and relying on patience, we can learn from the challenges and opportunities to work towards an improved normal.

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