How lessons of endurance can be carried into the post-pandemic future, according to a social anthropologist

woman on couch looking at phone at home
The fight to keep something you love – including yourself – alive requires endurance, which we all need to have.

  • Social anthropologist Felix Ringel believes that endurance will get us through our post-pandemic lives.
  • Creating a sustainable post-pandemic future will depend on endurance, maintenance, and tenacity.
  • By nature, our ability to persevere through hard times allows us to adapt to new social situations.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The coronavirus, or rather the measurements taken against it, changed our perception of time. For many, the attempts to prevent the spread of the virus resulted in a feeling that time had come to a standstill.

When the pandemic first hit, this notion of stopped time was at the core of a widespread sense of crisis. For a while, many existed in survival mode, reacting to the demands of the day while unable to plan ahead. However, around the world, humans also began to deploy what in my work as a social anthropologist I call temporal agency – the ability to deliberately restructure, speed up, or slow down the times we are living in.

Many of us learned how to trick time in order to get through the new COVID-19 way of life. People restructured their daily lives by establishing new routines. Many had to navigate the differences between home and home office time, when both were spent in the same place. Some of us even learned how to tentatively plan ahead in a reality where the future was uncertain.

Many lockdowns later, I’m still impressed by the creative responses to the pandemic, particularly the many ways in which families and friends learned to share time at a distance. However, the one feature I particularly believe we should carry into the post-pandemic future is not that COVID creativity, but perseverance itself.

Endurance, maintenance, and tenacity – the ingredients that make up perseverance – are under-appreciated even in times without crisis. However, they kept us going when life was hardest. Humanity surprised itself by quickly adapting to the new pandemic normal, but what counted more was the perseverance we deployed for more than a year without giving up. Creating a sustainable post-pandemic future will depend on it, too.

Missed opportunities

The pandemic taught us to appreciate, and even celebrate perseverance, not least the continuous daily work of all the heroic frontline workers (whose everyday work we’d taken for granted for too long). It also provided us with a chance to reconsider what’s important in our lives and how we want to organize our societies in the future. Many of us were made aware of what counts and what was missed the most.

Prominent amongst those things are the social relations that make us who we are – with family members, friends, neighbors, and colleagues, even those we had all those unnecessary fights with during lockdown.

In the post-pandemic future, we should never again take them for granted, nor all the hugs, kisses, and handshakes. We avoid doing that by appreciating the work that goes into maintaining these social relationships.

Apart from time for family and friends, we also yearned for other times – for travel and leisure, for example. We’d taken for granted the distinction between work and leisure, office and home time, and we’ll have to take time again to renegotiate these distinctions. Whatever we come up with in the end, this new work-life balance will also have to stand the test of time – whether it can endure in the future and we in it.

Endurance and exhaustion

During the pandemic, many people had to come up with new ideas and change their behavior. But once that change had happened, we were forced to maintain and endure our response to the pandemic.

The daily exercises, weekly Zoom calls with relatives or prolonged homeschooling efforts were all examples of endurance. In many places, perseverance shaped the latter part of the pandemic – it was all about making it through a few more dark winter days and resisting general exhaustion and lockdown fatigue.

Endurance is important to society in general. In a recent paper, I looked into why this matters in the context of urban decline in postindustrial cities.

As cities change, their inhabitants are forced to adapt their behavior to new social, economic, and political circumstances. Through this change, the fight to keep something you love alive requires endurance. Sustaining a social club that struggles to find new members or preserving your local community center from closure entails plenty of perseverance. Maintaining part of your urban infrastructure that suffers from funding cuts – your youth club or local park – is a revolutionary act, because it withstands the change others intended for it.

This work of maintenance and repair is at the core of our societies. It might look less interesting than attempts at making a difference, but without it, everything around us would collapse.

The end of this pandemic will not be a sharp cut. It will be gradual and, as humanity will have to pace itself, there will be more need for endurance. In the best case, the experiences of the pandemic will help us determine what this future should look like.

Although the pandemic will at some point be over, there are enough crises yet that demand our attention: economic, social, ecological, and political ones as well as potential future pandemics. The same sense of endurance, sustainability, and perseverance will have to characterize our responses to those, too.

It is not enough to wait for a shortcut out of climate change or a cure-all for economic decline. A truly sustainable solution to these crises will have to be maintained in new everyday lives and routines. It will have to work with a different understanding of what human agency is all about.

Like during the pandemic, we not only have to establish new ideas but make them work in the long run.

Felix Ringel, assistant professor of Anthropology, Durham University

The Conversation
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5 employee retention strategies to keep working mothers – and all caretakers – from feeling burned out

Working mom
The flexibility to work from home is one great way to keep mothers and caretakers on staff long-term.

  • The pandemic has upended how we work, and employers have found creative ways to retain hard workers.
  • Parents and other caregivers need more flexibility to manage their jobs and their families at the same time.
  • Employers can help by looking at their employees’ lives holistically and making adjustments.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

During the depths of the pandemic, business owners had to get creative about keeping their best employees – especially moms, who were more likely to have to quit their jobs to care for school-age kids and sick family members. Now, with a light at the end of the tunnel, many entrepreneurs have no desire to go back to 2019.

Their pandemic-era strategies, devised to help hold onto parents, are helping them retain valued employees, recruit talent, and often, work more efficiently. Here are the parent-friendly strategies that entrepreneurs are employing for the long haul:

1. Keep working from home, mostly

There’s no doubt that the pandemic has had lasting effects on attitudes about remote work. While only 13% of companies say they’re giving up their offices for good, only 17% plan to go back to the office full time. And a number of entrepreneurs say this sort of flexibility is exactly what working parents need.

Gita Bhargava, the cofounder of outsourced HR and payroll services provider Global Upside, always thought the best way to bring new employees up to speed was to have them sit next to her. However, that’s not always practical. Her company has 500 employees in 170 countries, each with its own complex legal and regulatory requirements.

“The pandemic has opened my eyes,” she said. “I have changed my mind completely.” She used to think it was difficult to hire people with the experience she needs; now, she hires for fit – regardless of location – and trains new hires to do the work. “You can be working anywhere in the world,” she said. “And if you are working at home, I will be calling you to tell you not to burn the candle at both ends. The sky will not fall because you didn’t answer your email today.”

At Upside, an 85-person corporate travel company, the onset of the pandemic coincided with the expiration of the company’s lease. (Travel company Upside is unrelated to HR company Global Upside.) Its CEO, Scott Case, who was also the founding CTO of, decided the company would go fully remote, for good. Aside from the real estate savings, he wanted to give the parents on staff a bit of certainty at a particularly uncertain time. Those with families far away could move closer to them to get child care support, without having to worry that they’d lose their jobs once it was safe to go back to the office. A handful of people, said Case, left the company, saying they counted on having some social interaction at work. Case said he’ll get the staff together, maybe once a quarter, when it’s safe to do so. “We could have a really great party with the money we’ll save on real estate,” he said.

Talia Goldstein, the founder and president of matchmaking service Three Day Rule, ran a fully remote company before the pandemic. Her matchmakers never would have been in the office anyway, since their job was to meet potential matches for their clients.

Now those same interviews are conducted via video, and Goldstein said her company is never going back. Her team saves on travel time this way, she said, but that’s not even the biggest advantage. In interviews, matchmakers are asking people about their dating history, their family life, and other personal topics. Now, they’re finding those conversations are flowing more easily.

“Maybe people were a bit nervous because at a coffee shop, there are people around them,” she said. “They are much more comfortable divulging information on video. That part is so much better.”

2. Stay flexible with schedules and time on the job

For many families whose school-age kids are suddenly at home, 9-to-5 is no longer the peak productive time for work. Strongsuit, a 15-person company that provides families with a tech-enabled chief of staff, already had a customer service team that was fully remote. But in the spring of 2020, those employees started asking for various changes in their working hours. When plan B didn’t work either, employees would ask for yet another schedule – and likely, yet another change after that. Founder Lindsey Michaelides realized her staff needed total flexibility, even though her customers were accustomed to near-instantaneous response times.

Michaelides started by trying to reset customer expectations, letting them know that any message not marked “urgent” might have a 24-hour turnaround time. As a company that was started to support parents, she explained, it needed to make this change to support the parents on its own staff. “The customers were amazing,” said Michaelides. “We got applause.” It’s a relief for the employees, too, said Michaelides: “It gives them total control.”

In some cases, even total control wasn’t enough. Strongsuit has allowed its employees to reduce the overall number of hours they work, if necessary. Customer service staff were supposed to commit to at least 30 hours a week; now, some work just 15 hours a week.

3. Work smarter, with batch processing and asynchronous communication

Colugo, an 11-person Philadelphia-based company that makes baby gear, also found it had to offer flexible hours so its employees – eight of whom have young kids at home – could try to deal with both parenting and work. But the company also realized it needed to work smarter. One answer: batch processing. If a customer needed a refund, a team member used to see that request in Slack and respond right away. Questions about inventory were handled similarly.

But cofounder Christy MacGregor realized the inventory and refund requests weren’t actually urgent. So why not handle them all at once?

“A lot of this can be batch processed more efficiently,” she said. Now the person working on the last shift of the day will do all the inventory work in one go. Refunds get handled similarly. “The pandemic has forced us to become more efficient and find better ways to work,” said MacGregor. “We definitely want to continue that.”

4. Limit meetings

Employees who need maximum flexibility often find that meetings are the bane of their existence – or at least of their calendars. So Strongsuit’s Michaelides is on a quest to get rid of as many meetings as she can. The company’s daily standup now takes place on Slack. Instead of asking everyone to dial in at the same time, every day, a Slackbot programmed by one of the company’s developers walks them through a series of questions: How are you showing up today? What are your top three priorities? What are your needs of your teammates? What are you grateful for today?

All-hands meetings went from weekly to biweekly to quarterly. Team meetings, which used to take place weekly, are now every other week. “Do we need the all-hands meetings?” Michaelides wondered. “Or can we keep up the cultural health of the organization if we move it to Slack?”

5. Support mental health days

A few founders said they are reinforcing the idea of mental health days. Even with so-called unlimited vacation, they say, employees are reluctant to take time off. So they’re assigning everyone mental health days, often once a quarter, on a use-it-or-lose-it basis. All staffers are expected to take them, which helps remove some of the stigma that employees might feel if they’re perceived to be struggling.

“How do I have a conversation where I can say, look, you’ve had a lot of crazy shit going on. Maybe you need to take a day,” said Upside’s Case. The goal of the quarterly mental health day, he said, “is to help normalize that conversation.”

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