Every 18 months, Marc Pritchard fires himself (“I quickly rehire myself,” he notes). It’s a forcing mechanism he uses to regularly shift his mindset.

“When you start a job, you come in fresh, you come in excited,” he says. “You look at all the possibilities, and you look at the problems, as well. But you’re not encumbered by the past, you look at things fresh.” (scroll down for more, below video)

Firing oneself may be a slightly inconvenient tactic for many people, but the events of the past 21 months haven’t been all that much more convenient. In both cases, work and its possibilities have been reexamined and recast. As workers were sent home, companies learned to become virtual operations. Then, enough employees said they didn’t want to ever go back to the office full-time and “hybrid” models for working emerged. But with the rise of new variants, landing on a work model remains in flux and in limbo. Have we learned anything or should we all just fire ourselves now? We asked three Signal speakers to share their takes on what’s happened with work this year:

Sherry Turkle, a professor at MIT who focuses on conversation, is exasperated by the rush to new approaches. “We have wanted Covid to be ‘over’ when it is by no means over,” she says. “In that spirit, institutions have responded with rules so that they could move beyond: No masks. Everyone masked. Insisting that all employees return to work or declaring that the office is a thing of the past. 

“What the moment calls for is not rules but the courage of empathy. Empathic leadership would  be focused on two questions: What do people in the organization need to stay healthy and  work? How can the institution support them? Different people may need different things.  Insisting that we frame our lives as any kind of normal is defensive. We are coping with  catastrophe. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s a human thing to do.” 

Jordan Shlain, founder of Private Medical, says we’re going through a once-in-every-800-years kind of a moment: “Our understanding of work in the context of how we interpret life and living has indelibly changed. Much like the bubonic plague’s impact on ‘labor’ eliminated the feudal system in the 1300’s, Covid has forced the function of reimagining how ‘work’ and ‘life’ could integrate with intention.”

For David Kidder, co-founder and CEO of Bionic, part of Accenture Interactive, work in 2021 has called for leaders to bring a new outlook to running their organizations: “This moment in time is defined by rapid change and disruption. Business leaders need to adopt new mindsets, change their expectations, tap into different instincts, and take their organizations in new directions. Leaders can no longer act on forecasts and grind through predictions based on the past. The future of leadership is at a crossroads and must be reinvented.”