Just yesterday (at the time of this writing), the CDC announced that COVID-vaccinated people can safely go unmasked both outdoors and indoors in most cases. There are countless concerns and questions to be ironed out, of course, but still: What a joyful sign of things to come.

We’re getting ready to open registration for the 2021 HCD Expo & Conference (Oct. 23-26, Cleveland), and that’s pretty exciting, too. I keep thinking about all the things I’ve missed most about the show. Maybe you can relate:

Team building. Many of the Healthcare Design team members work remotely in locations across the country, even in non-pandemic times. So for us, the annual expo is a welcome opportunity to meet in person—both professionally and less so, over drinks and meals. I’m sure a lot of our attendees and exhibitors this year will find themselves in a similar situation, finally getting to sit down and enjoy the company of their teammates without glitchy Zoom connections or the interruption of neighbors’ leaf blowers.

The awards luncheon. It’s always inspiring to see great healthcare projects that emerge from unique challenges. While the Design Showcase and Remodel/Renovation Competition winners were honored in the pages of the magazine and online in 2020, it will be wonderful once again to congratulate this year’s winners in person and allow them a literal spotlight in front of their peers at our annual Healthcare Design Awards Luncheon on Monday, Oct. 25.

Actual hands-on experiences. Getting to lay our eyes and hands on a wide variety of products tailor-made for healthcare environments, all under one roof, is another inspiration jolt we’ve had to live without for two years. I’m especially looking forward to walking around the exhibit hall with Nightingale Awards judges, as they take in new product designs for a new era and decide which ones stand out the most. (The awards will be handed out the morning of Oct. 25.)

The HCD networking party. Hanging out with my team over lunch is great; raising a toast to industry friends while listening to a live band or watching facility managers participate in, say, a limbo contest is a particularly special pleasure. Seriously, how great will it be to stand side by side with old colleagues and to introduce yourself to potential new clients? I’m sure we’ll all be a little rusty—but that’s what makes a lively networking party (also Oct. 25) an ideal backdrop to ease into the swing of things.

Personal show rituals. Does anyone else use an upcoming trade show as an excuse to buy new clothes/shoes/bags every year? It can’t just be me. I’ve also developed a habit of grabbing a large mocha and warm croissant from my hotel coffee shop on the way to the opening keynote session, a comforting indulgence before I take the stage to kick off the day’s events.

What about you? What have you missed the most from your pre-pandemic work life, and will you join us for this year’s HCD Expo? Take a little time to reflect on your own favorite things. I hope you’ll get to enjoy them—and maybe share some of them with us and your peers in Cleveland—very soon.