The New Normal: Our In-Person and Digital Hybrid Lives

Is each of us living in two worlds right now? That may sound like a bit of a stretch, but these days it feels like many of us are leading two lives — one rooted in the physical world, and another that is taking place virtually on platforms we turn to for diverse forms of engagement.

The pandemic is showing us in real-time just how effective voice and video streaming technology is in providing alternative modes of connection and collaboration – and expanded capabilities will have far-reaching impact, even after COVID-19 subsides. In fact, for many of us, the ability to “go online” has been nothing short of a lifeline. While nothing can replace in-person experiences, we now know that we have the right technology to make virtual experiences much more engaging and meaningful than ever before.

In the past couple of months, we have seen the mass adoption of real-time engagement across age groups and industries. What started out as a dire need to replace in-person interaction at work or school has turned into a realization that increased adoption of real-time engagement technology makes us more connected, effective and flexible, regardless of physical limitations. While we don’t know when life will return to “normal”, we can bank on the post-pandemic world providing us more leeway to live a “hybrid” digital and in-person life that works for us.

Working from Anywhere Around the World

Location, raising small children or having a physical disability are examples of factors that limited us in the pre-COVID world from finding and holding onto our dream jobs. A lot of major companies did not have remote work infrastructure in place to accommodate such factors. Oftentimes, this resulted in top-tier talent looking elsewhere for opportunities, or worse, unable to find employment.

In this new world we are living in, the sky is the limit. With interactive collaboration technology at their fingertips, employees have proven they can do their jobs from anywhere. Employers that would have once balked at the idea of remote work now see just how resourceful and dedicated their employees actually are. From Microsoft Teams to Slack to Pragli’s virtual office, there are a plethora of platforms that make working from home simple, fun and sustainable long-term.

As this technology becomes even more sophisticated, we anticipate there will be a decreased emphasis on shackling employees to the rigidity of the office. According to a survey conducted by Gartner, 74% of CFOs say they expect to move previously on-site employees remote post-COVID-19. Keeping this in mind, companies would be wise to empower their employees to balance working in the office and remotely in a fashion that best suits their needs and productivity. Platforms like Pragli that allow people to meet online and break out into discussion groups will become more prevalent in a more remotely-based workforce future.

Reducing Barriers to Mental and Physical Wellness

Getting to the gym or fitting in a therapy appointment can be tough. Between work, school, family obligations and social events, taking care of ourselves can easily get backburned in the hustle and bustle of the day. To top it off, some of us live in areas where mental and physical wellness resources are slim to non-existent, such as lower-income and rural communities. When the barriers to care were exacerbated by the pandemic, we saw people turn to virtual solutions to tend to their wellness.

With the advent of apps like LiveKick, a platform for live-streamed fitness classes, we have an entirely new avenue to stay fit. While some of us have already been participating in virtual workouts, many of us had never experienced them before the pandemic forced our hand. Last month, a study was released that projected “the global fitness app market is forecasted to grow at a rate of 23.5% from USD 2.92 Billion in 2019 to USD 14.64 billion in 2027.” While the pandemic acted as a catalyst in showing us the benefits of virtual fitness, this trend is not only expected to stick — it’s expected to grow exponentially. From staying connected with friends to getting in a workout on a hectic day, we can expect folks to blend in-person gym classes with virtual workouts to best fit their own schedules.

In terms of mental health, applications like Talkspace, a mobile therapy provider, further reduces physical barriers to care with around-the-clock access to licensed therapists. With live streaming, patients and therapists can sit down for engaging sessions that are on par with in-person therapy. While this poses obvious benefits for folks who are grappling with mental health issues during the pandemic, the benefits of expanding access to teletherapy are long-term.

Medical companies are realizing telehealth has a place in modern medicine. In fact, back in May, UnitedHealth Group’s Optum partnered with Talkspace to make teletherapy available to its 2 million customers. If patients weren’t introduced to mobile therapy during the pandemic, it’s likely they will be soon – and in a continuation of this, we may even see medical insurance providers building increased coverage of teletherapy services into plans for people.

Staying Connected with Friends, Family and Loved Ones

Even for those of us who have not been a part of the work from home revolution, taken up live streamed yoga classes or sought out mobile therapy, most of us have likely connected with friends and family over various apps and platforms. During the pandemic, real-time engagement has filled a huge void left by stay-at-home orders and self-isolation.

Through apps like Houseparty and MeetMe’s virtual speed dating platform, we have been able to gather groups of people to socialize and have a laugh, drink or deep conversation. While these virtual social events started out as alternatives to real-life interaction, we are starting to see the value in having yet another way to connect with the people we care about. Once we can venture out beyond our homes, it is likely we will be much more comfortable embracing real-time engagement and connecting via video chats with our friends on a regular basis, versus returning the bulk of our communications to text or phone calls. As many of us can confirm, connecting with loved ones in real-time can get us through the loneliest of days.

As the world continues through this strange time, we can rest assured that real-time engagement is here to link us with those we need most. We no longer have to wait until our physical schedules permit us to connect with bosses, best friends, personal trainers or health care providers. At a higher level, this technology can help solve systemic problems that have plagued our society for a long time. For example, an uptick in telehealth could alleviate pressure on the healthcare system as a whole. Instead of straining hospitals with simple diagnostic visits, patients can schedule follow-ups, check-ups and other routine appointments from the comfort of their homes. That being said, most industries can and will undergo a similar type of digital transformation in the coming years. This duality will surely help us become more connected and productive in our day-to-day lives. Although the current circumstances are grim, we believe that the new “hybrid” life in which we connect in-person as well as digitally in increasingly more meaningful ways is here to stay.