Let’s not mince words, 2020 was an extremely difficult year. It’s hard to process everything that’s changed in the last 12 months. The hosts Fast Company’s three podcasts: Kate Davis (Secrets of the Most Productive People), KC Ifeanyi (Creative Conversation), and Talib Visram (Fast Break) recorded a live episode where they tried to work through some of the events, trends and, let’s be frank, traumas that have changed society and the way we live. So much happened this year there’s no way to cover it all. (We didn’t even get to climate change for example).
Here is some of what we covered.
2020 Changed: The Way We Work
One of the biggest changes this year was in March when millions of workers had to go from working in an office to working from home. In 2020 before COVID-19 only about 3% of the U.S. labor force worked remotely, since restrictions went in place this spring, now 42% of the U.S. works from home full-time. And several major companies (REI, Facebook, Zillow, Twitter, Square) said the switch will be permanent.
Of course millions of jobs can’t be done remotely, or are better done in person (most everyone prefers in-person teaching to remote learning), and all office work isn’t going to go away. But the move to remote work was always on the horizon, the pandemic just sped things up (in January of this year we predicted remote work would rule in 2040). Sure, some people prefer going in to an office but there are a lot of benefits to permanent remote work.
In fact the move to remote work could change the landscape of the country and business. It frees people up to live in more affordable cities outside of New York and the Bay Area. Companies can see significant cost savings in giving up leases to expensive office towers and widen their available talent pool, a huge step in solving the so-called “pipeline problem.” Local economies in smaller cities and towns also benefit is has the potential to end “brain drain” where people leave for the coasts after getting their degrees.
But remote work isn’t without problems, living and working alone is isolating, and the pandemic-related circumstances of having to care for (and educate) children while working is untenable to say the least. But if we solve for those problems post-Covid, than remote work might be one of the changes from this year that we’ll want to keep.
2020 Changed: The Way We Think About Policing
Perhaps the idea that resonated the most from this summer’s racial justice protests was the call to defund the police. It’s important to define what that means: it doesn’t mean abolishing the police (though some more radical thinkers are calling for that to happen). Rather, it means cutting down police budgets and redistributing resources to other preventative measures, such as investment in housing, education, and mental healthcare.
For example, take a pilot program in the South Central neighborhood of Dallas, where home visits from 911 calls about mental health are made by a social worker and a paramedic (with the help of an officer). Previously, it would be two armed officers, who are only qualified to either send that person to the ER or jail, wasting time and resources—and subduing the dignity of that mentally ill individual. Likewise, Albuquerque’s mayor announced a citywide program that would respond to calls about homelessness, inebriation, and addiction in similar ways.
But, there are skeptics—including President Obama, who recently said that proponents stand to lose an audience with such a “snappy slogan” as “defund the police,” and that it could actually make it harder to pass criminal justice reform if it turns people off. While there may be some truth to that, in that it’s a deeply nuanced topic that the buzzword doesn’t capture, people have responded suggesting that influencers such as Obama should use their platform to explain to the masses what it means.
The voices of allies may be crucial in the coming months, as the media focus on police brutality has waned. As we’ve seen with the fight for gun control, it’s hard to keep national attention on an issue even if it hurts people everyday. Case in point: Minneapolis’ city council earlier this year voted to disband the police department; it’s now walked that back to trimming $8 million off the budget. Still, the move was praised by progressive Minneapolis native, Ilhan Omar.
2020 Changed: How We Watch Movies
Like so many other industries affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, movie theaters have not only taken a massive financial hit, their traditional business models have been upended.
According to the National Association of Theater Owners, 70% of cinemas could close permanently or be forced into bankruptcy before the spring of 2021. That could mean more than 70,000 jobs lost.
The silver lining has been Save our Stages, a $15 billion stimulus package for arts and entertainment venues that have been affected by the pandemic. While there have been concerns the bill will flounder during Donald Trump’s current lame duck status, Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar, who co-authored the bill, said things are “looking good.”
While Save Our Stages is a silver lining to the entertainment industry’s woes, it isn’t a silver bullet. There could be longterm ramifications to how studios are reacting to theaters shutting down. Case in point: Warner Bros. releasing its entire 2021 slate, including major titles such as The Matrix 4 and Dune, simultaneously in theaters and on its streaming platform HBO Max.
The decision sparked immediate outrage from Hollywood heavyweights like directors Christopher Nolan and Judd Apatow. And some critics pointed out that it seems like a cheap ploy to boost subscription numbers amid the intensifying streaming wars.
We know that movie theaters will widely open again at some point in the future. But there are a few things worth keeping an eye on: Major studios have long made tentpole, mega budget films their priority and those projects rely on box office revenue to recoup losses—something that would be hard to achieve through streaming. So will this current situation force studios to focus more on mid-budget films? Also, in what ways, if at all, will studios rethink distribution for at-home rentals and streaming?
2020 Changed: Our Confidence in Democracy
Americans voted like never before in this year’s presidential election: an estimated 35 million by in-person early voting, and around 65 million by mail. That significantly changed the election rhythms we’re used to on election night—which transformed into about five election nights. Though Trump seemed to have the early upper hand, swing states slowly turned bluer as mail ballots trickled in over the coming days. It was the perfect recipe for Donald Trump to cry foul play.
But, Trump had cried foul play and claimed a rigged election months before any votes had been cast. He told his supporters not to vote by mail, then claimed fraud when blue ballots came in. Still, 74 million people voted for him, and many believe his assertions (he still has not conceded). A recent poll showed that only 27% of Republicans believe the election was free and fair; just 33% have “at least some trust” in the U.S. election system.
Leadership comes from the top, but it remains to be seen if the Biden presidency can fix the lack of confidence in American democracy. But many of the unsavory elements from the Trump era—like alt-right groups and conspiracy theorists—are out of the bag and continue to spread disinformation. What’s more, while Democrats may be happy with the result this time, there’s still a lack of confidence among the left in rusty democratic structures, like the electoral college, which has existed since the founding fathers and was rooted in slavery. Democrats have won the popular vote in the past five of six presidential elections—but only three of the elections. Trump could well have won again, even with a 7 million vote deficit.
2020 Changed: the Supreme Court
Of huge loss of life this year, a few like John Lewis and Ruth Bader Ginsberg loomed so large and have left such a hole. With how overwhelming the new cycle was this fall we didn’t really taken the time to process what losing RBG and having her so swiftly replaced by a judge like Amy Coney Barret means for the future of the country, women’s reproductive freedom, and overall equality.
2020 Changed: Sports
Just as many TV shows and movies have been saving graces for self-care this year, so have sports for so many people. That’s despite, or maybe because of, the strange schedules, with sports on TV at erratic times—not to mention the oddness of fake fans in the stands and canned crowd noises.
Entertainment aside, sports have filled a leadership gap in 2020. It’s surreal to think that all the NBA stars quarantined together in a bubble in Walt Disney World (it’s surely still a missed opportunity that they didn’t combine the NBA bubble with the Great British Bake-Off bubble, and have LeBron bake cakes)—and that they pulled it off safely. The NBA also led the support for Black Lives Matter, which the English Premier League enthusiastically followed, as did even the NFL, only years after publicly condemning players kneeling for the cause. The league clearly felt the pressure and shifted it in the right direction. It’s a testament to the cultural role that sports plays in society.
2020 Changed: The Royal Family
It’s hard to imagine given the breakneck pace of 2020’s news cycle, but this was the same year the Duke and Duchess of Sussex decided to leave the Royal Family. This news was important for several reason, but the biggest looming question: What will Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s roles look like now? While it seems they’re both still committed to public service, as they would’ve been while they were still active members of the Royal Family, how they’re going about it breaks from tradition. From their deal with Netflix to their recently announced podcasting partnership with Spotify, they seem to be building a digital presence that, could have even more of an immediate impact than working within the confines of the Royal Family.
2020 Changed The Way We Mourn
Undeniably the biggest loss in 2020 was the staggering loss of life. It’s the undercurrent in everything we talk about with Covid-19. By the end of the year the number of Americans who died will be well over 300,000, and 1.6 million people have died worldwide. All of the comparisons in scope (a 9/11 a day, more than died in combat in all of WWII) can’t do it justice. Each number is a real person who was loved, whose family and friends in most cases didn’t get to properly say goodbye or hold funerals. In so many ways 2020 changed the way we mourn, and it’s a collective and personal trauma we will be living with for a generation.
2020 Changed Representation In Pop Culture
The most recent wave of protests against police brutality once again sparked very necessary conversations around racism, which branched into other necessary conversations like how Black culture is represented in media. From major studios like Netflix doubling down on their efforts by investing in a breadth of Black stories, to new Black-owned startups showcasing the creativity of the culture, the Black content Renaissance is strong. And as a reminder to the studios and investors bankrolling the wave, your efforts in elevating these stories shouldn’t stop with the Black community just because that’s what’s dominating the news cycle: Now’s the time to tap into the full scope of stories from overlooked communities and cultures—no need to wait for a trending hashtag to take representation seriously.
Undeniably, 2020 is a year that changed the course of human history. But for now, in the waning days dark days of December, we are happy to put it to rest.