Hybrid work and more take-out: how COVID changed our habits

Here are the COVID-era habits that have persisted after the pandemic

Today's expression: Stick with
Explore more: Lesson #659
March 21, 2024:

Four years ago, our lives changed in an instant. As the immediate danger of the pandemic subsided, we went back to our old habits of eating indoors, gathering with friends and family, and traveling. But there are some changes that persisted, even after the pandemic ended. Here are a few of them.

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Here are some ways the world has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic

Lesson summary

Hi there everyone, I’m Jeff and this is Plain English, where we help you upgrade your English with stories about current events and trending topics. It’s a lot more fun than learning from a textbook. And we provide you all the support you need to upgrade your skills—not just here in the audio lessons, but also at PlainEnglish.com

Every Monday and Thursday, we talk about something going on in the world. And we are in the middle of a two-part story. On Monday, we talked about botched predictions. What predictions did we make about how the world would change after COVID? Like, we’ll never take cruises again, we’ll wear masks all the time…yeah. That didn’t happen.

But the world did change in some ways. And we’ll dive into those today. Now I do want to mention that this is definitely a view from the U.S., where I’m from, and Mexico, where I live now, and Europe, where I’ve traveled. But certainly things might be different where you live.

This is lesson number 659 and that means JR has uploaded the transcript and full lesson content to PlainEnglish.com/659. I think we’re ready. Let’s get started.

Ways the world has changed since COVID

If you listened to Monday’s Story, you might be under the impression that COVID-19 changed nothing: we’re not wearing masks, we don’t have to show our vaccine status, and cruise ships are packed. But there have been some lasting changes to daily life that we can chalk up to the pandemic. And that’s what we’ll explore today.

Let’s start with health care. Health care is, by its nature, a very in-person kind of thing. You can’t fix a broken arm with a smartphone app. But a lot of things can be done virtually. During the pandemic, hospitals and health clinics experimented with telehealth, seeing patients virtually for some types of things.

Rashes, sore throat, heartburn, back pain, headaches, quitting smoking: these are things that you can do, at least initially, via a secure smartphone app. Follow-up visits and consultations are also good candidates for remote visits. Virtual visits were more convenient for both doctors and patients, and they have continued post-pandemic.

One happy result? Doctors around the world are learning how to treat more conditions remotely. That has allowed NGO’s and governments to bring medical expertise to poor and remote areas that don’t have in-person access to well-trained doctors.

The pandemic caused a lot of non-physical symptoms, too: loneliness, anxiety, and stress increased as we were shut inside. And for many people, the pandemic was the first time they sought out any type of mental health treatment. Many therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists quickly pivoted to online or hybrid service.

And this continues, today. Many professionals argue that in-person therapy is more effective than online therapy. But online therapy can be more convenient for patients. And a mixture of in-person and online sessions can help patients stick with their treatment over the long run.

How about life at the office? White-collar workers abruptly shifted to working from home, taking advantage of Zoom , Microsoft Teams, and other collaboration tools. Some companies declared themselves fully virtual: they would have no more offices. But many companies, Zoom included, began calling their workers back to the office.

Even so, office work in many sectors has changed. Employees liked the flexibility that remote work provided. Every culture is different, but many industries around the world seem to have settled on a hybrid arrangement. It’s now common for employees to work in person a few days a week, and at home a few days a week. This isn’t true for every office worker. But there is much more work-at-home or remote work flexibility than there once was.

Workplace dress is more casual than it was before. In the U.S. at least, this had been a trend before the pandemic. But when everyone returned to work after the pandemic, offices became even more informal as people ditched their boring business-casual wardrobes and exchanged them for more interesting and more comfortable clothes.

This isn’t just for the office. Television and sports broadcasts now often include segments from reporters in their own homes—and the reporters and commentators often don’t put on formal clothes to do it.

Restaurants were among the hardest-hit businesses during the pandemic. Many went out of business. Those that survived adapted to serve more take-out and delivery meals. Prior to the pandemic, take-out and delivery was primarily for lower-priced food. But when restaurants were closed, and while people were practicing social distancing, higher-quality restaurants pivoted to offering food to-go.

That change has proved durable. A recent survey showed that two-thirds of Americans order more take-out now than before COVID struck. The surge in app-based ordering is here to stay—that goes for both delivery apps like Uber Eats and for the branded apps of restaurant chains like Starbucks and McDonald’s. But as you learned on Monday, ghost kitchens have been shutting down.

A lot of restaurants expanded their patios. Cities changed the way public space was organized. Many cities expanded the sidewalk space available for outdoor dining. Some cities closed roads and opened them up to pedestrians. Many used the pandemic as a perfect excuse to build more bike lanes. A lot of those changes are still in place .

Finally, families have gotten bigger. And no, I’m not talking about couples having more children. I’m talking about pets . It was popular during the pandemic for singles, couples, and families to adopt cats and dogs. In the U.S., pet ownership was 38 percent before the pandemic, and it jumped to 45 percent after. I was worried about what would happen to all the pets after people had to go back to the office. But it appears many people have kept their pets even after their commutes started up again.

Jeff’s take

What have been the permanent changes to your life? Think about that. For me, I never went back to five-days-a-week in the office. And then I transitioned to working at Plain English full time, so work at home is the only kind of work I do.

We’ll talk about this on a future live conversation call . Check your Plain English dashboard for the dates and times. These are the calls we have with Plus+ members . They’re a great time to get on a Zoom call with me, with JR, and other members, and talk about the topics you hear on Plain English. So we’ll talk about what changed in your daily life since COVID on an upcoming call—check your dashboard for a list of those dates and times.

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Expression: Stick with