The Star Tribune's lovely feature last week of readers' last photographs of life before the new coronavirus last March shut everything down was an evocative photo essay of loss and remembrance.
Think of it as a preview, too, of the coming time after the pandemic, when we'll get to enjoy concerts, weddings and other things where people crowded together indoors.
Now with more than a quarter of the state's population with at least one shot of a vaccine, that day feels close. And yet average new daily cases of COVID-19 are on the rise again in Minnesota.
We are stuck in the In Between Time — approaching normal for some, not close to normal for others and plenty of stress in managing both for the people who run our businesses and nonprofits. It could last awhile, too.
The COVID-19 vaccine continues to roll out. The count of fully vaccinated Minnesotans is up to around 900,000, growing daily. While that obviously leaves a long way to go, there are enough people vaccinated to begin to change expectations.
Those with their shots would find joy being among people again right now, even though others still won't join them. They might be getting seated at their favorite restaurant while waving to friends out front still waiting for their first shot of a COVID-19 vaccine who decided to pick up another curbside order.
Some office workers could be pestering the boss for the go-ahead to go back, to finally get out of the house and see work friends again. Others plan to never go back.
Somehow the reality of these new challenges of managing a business only seemed obvious to me after reading a blog created by a minister's coach, Laura Stephens-Reed, a Protestant minister in Alabama. Vaccinated members will want to go back to normal, she wrote, while others are still back in the vaccine line need must have their needs met in other ways besides in-person programs.
Some religious communities never really abandoned in-person experiences. But many others took all of their programming online a year ago, using YouTube or Zoom.
In my experience, it may have appeared chaotic at times — a dozen people singing live on Zoom won't sound like a well-rehearsed performance of the Minnesota Chorale — but yet it worked.
Not only could members stay connected while the building was closed, those on a weekend trip could pop up the morning service on a computer, too. Older members, not able to get around so well anymore, got the chance to feel present for maybe the first time in years.
Now that some members who have had their shots are eager to be back in the building, just like in the time before the pandemic, the programing still can't go back to normal.
Producing a good in-person experience along with a good online experience won't really mean doing the job twice. It'll only seem like it. And the days are still just 24 hours long.
In all this talk about a "hybrid" model, that's really what it's about. Employers with big office staffs are thinking that through right now, as they have gotten the message that their workers expect flexibility.
Working some from home and some in the office sounds great, but news coverage of the coming hybrid model sure makes it seem like a lot of things have to be figured out.
If there is going to be only enough desks for three days a week, what happens if they all want to come in on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and no one wants to be there on a Monday or a Friday?
Already the Harvard Business Review has published an article about how to make sure the new hybrid work environment doesn't mean the prized assignments, promotions and other good things usually go to people who remain top of mind for the boss just because they are in the office a lot more.
Lots of service businesses have had to stretch what they do for customers, as fitness gym owners became online coaches and pharmacies hired staff to walk prescriptions out to waiting cars.
Just think of the challenges of running a restaurant. A year ago lots of them had no takeout business, assuming customers wouldn't spend $22 for a boxed pasta dish that would be lukewarm at best once it got home. But now, said restaurant owner Tim Niver, with three Twin Cities restaurants including Mucci's Italian in St. Paul, takeout will remain a part of business even after the dining rooms reopen. "For us, it's now that we know how to do it, let's just do it," he said.
As Niver described it, creating a to-go business isn't as easy as it may look. Even ensuring the right thing always went in the to-go box was challenging. Mistakes in the dining room are easily fixed, but in takeout no one finds out there's been a goof until the customer is back home.
In order of operational complexity, in-person dining is the easiest, then it's switching entirely to selling orders to go and finally there's running both at the same time.
"Honestly, nobody knows how the consumer's going to end up acting after the pandemic, exactly," he said. "If we think, as restaurateurs, that things are going to go back exactly the way they were, that's maybe not the smartest approach."
Niver said he's been feeling more hopeful — late last year was the emotional bottom for him — but about a month ago the chefs at Mucci's said they really needed a break. Because of the virus, they had not been mixing staffs, so no subs and no days off.
Mucci's just closed for the week to give the staffers their breather.
As we talked, Niver sounded a little like the coach for pastor Stephens-Reed, writing about how the coming months could be even more challenging for church staff.
It seems to important to remember that people we are counting on to make our lives a little better as the end of the worst phase of the pandemic approaches — our boss, our chef, our pastor — are already exhausted.