Thriving in our post-coronavirus pandemic world

Photo by Macau Photo Agency on Unsplash

Our world has now forever changed. Usually, that would be an overstatement. History will gauge where the coronavirus pandemic stands amongst global crises, but it certainly feels like one of the most significant moments of widespread upheaval in my lifetime. Cities and states are being shut down, as essential supplies run low and death-tolls are rising at an accelerating pace.

It feels like we’re getting a small taste of being dropped into a movie-like apocalypse scene. The way we work, shop, and travel won’t ever be quite the same. It’s hard to tell when this will end or the extent of the damages. At the very least, we’re collectively suffering from prolonged low-grade anxiety with no end in sight.

The truth is this will pass.

We’re going to get through this.

And when we do, how will we look back at ourselves in this moment? Will we be amongst those who hoarded or those who stepped up and led? Was this merely be the year we realized how to properly wash our hands? When we all became infectious disease experts? Will we emerge only with t-shirts saying we survived covid-19?

I’m by no means trivializing survival, as some of us are in the fight of our lives and survival would be victory and an answer to prayer. However, if you’re fortunate enough to be safe and healthy we owe it to ourselves to more than limp out of this surviving. By this stage, we all know what we need to do to take care of ourselves and our loved ones, please do that, but don’t let this be a window in time we wasted.

Historically this is an opportune time.

In the face of our largest catastrophes, humanity has always found a way to bounce back. There may still be a species ending event, but coronavirus will not be it.

We’ve survived everything from major market crashes to the 9/11 terrorist events. WW2 ushered in decades of economic growth and progress. Each crisis spurred new regulations, more diverse workforces, and a realignment in priorities. Pre-stock market, one of humanity’s biggest black swan events, Black Death, stole the lives of a third of Europe’s population in the 1300s. And yet, it also led to a labour shortage, driving up wage increases and helped to break an entrenched feudal system.

We’ll continue to have casualties and setbacks, but this storm will pass.

For those of us in the arena trying to disrupt the norm, the disruption’s been done for us. Now’s your chance to show us what you’ve got.

What we know is changing

While there many unknowns, it’s not hard to read the tea leaves and be prepared for the world that’s about to emerge. Some of these are existing trends, but they’re accelerating and shifting to new gears. Here are a few areas in my view

  • Remote work will become normalized. Momentum is gained as we discover that we can work remotely and be incredibly effective. Work from home is extended beyond programmers and creatives to everyone from fitness instructors, to therapists, to teachers. Flexible arrangements shift the focus from time spent to impact. Clarity and buy-in become a priority as the industrial factory system is removed from us.
  • The corporate landscape shifts. Unfortunately, many small businesses will suffer. The brand values and operating models of larger companies will be tested. Brick and mortar businesses will be re-evaluated. Remote work will open up wider talent pools and increase retention. Venture capital will slow and then flood back as the next Amazon’s and Facebook’s emerge. Subscription-based models that depend on relationships and delivering ongoing value will thrive.
  • Both globalization and nationalism ratchet up. Nationalism builds its case on focusing inwards and tightening borders with the pandemic. At the same time, we’ll find international cooperation becoming the only way forward as we face global challenges. Scientists, the private sector, NGO’s, open data, and borderless digital communities will continue to push our interconnectedness forward.
  • Resiliency takes center stage. The pandemic is a wakeup call in preparation for our next crisis. Preventative measures for business continuity will become increasingly important as we re-examine everything from security to supply chains.
  • Well-being is addressed more openly. We’re going through a shared global experience and it’s not a pleasant one. Anxiety has spread faster than the virus itself and the body keeps score. We’re taking a mental health hit globally and it’ll need to be addressed somehow. The bright side is we’ll likely have better overall hygiene practices and less shaming of employees taking sick days.
  • There will be unintended consequences. Sapiens author, Yuval Noah Harari, writes of how in crises, technologies can be rushed to service and ‘temporary measures have a nasty habit of outlasting emergencies’. There will be repercussions we’ll live with for decades that we aren’t even aware of yet.
  • Touch may become taboo. Handshakes and high-fives may never be the same. Everything from parades, to product launches, to public pools, may have new considerations. Meaningless interactions will be sifted out and face to face encounters will become even more sacred.
  • The world’s most vulnerable will be pushed to the brink. What might be most terrifying is that some nations and communities will struggle to recover, if at all. Think of the densely packed refugee camps where water, sanitation, and hospitals are not options. In Canada, on average there are 7 hospital beds per thousand people, in some of the poorest countries there are as few as one per 10,000.

There’s also a lot of areas that won’t change anytime soon. The need to love and be loved, the climate crisis, maximizing shareholder value, differing opinions, and the human spirit amongst many other things.

There’s never been a greater time in human history to create change.

With technology, connectivity, and now the massive disruption to the status quo, we each have an incredible opportunity to fill gaps and lead.

Newton developed calculus and discovered gravity in quarantine. Edvard Munch painted after contracting the deadly Spanish Flu. Mandela and Gandhi both wrote classics while in prison.

Here are some things we can do based on what we know today and where things are going.

  • If you can’t go out, you can always go within. There’s an endless journey as wide as our planet you can explore within if you dare. It’s a great time to pause long enough to notice where we’re hiding and discover what we’ve been avoiding.
  • Lean into remote work. Learn how to communicate digitally when there’s more noise and less body language. How might you 10x what you’re doing if you weren’t commuting and confined to the same physical space every day?
  • Build new routines. Since nothing’s normal now, why not build out a new normal? Routines always win in the long run.
  • Learn something deeply. No one can stop you from this one. Develop a skill humanity will need on the other side of this.
  • Redesign your life for resiliency. Be less strung out and create breathing room in your life. What margins are you able to make so you’re able to bend when the wind is blowing down hard? If you lead an organization how might you shift towards flexible cross-functional teams to meet the demands of a more volatile future?
  • Make something. While everyone else is stocking up on toilet paper and refreshing the news, build something you think ought to exist in the world. It could be something tiny and beautiful or something that springboards us into the next economy.
  • Take a crack at climate change. This one might seem daunting, but if preventative measures are becoming the rage, maybe there’s a door opening for you to help us step through.
  • Replace most meetings with a clear and succinct email. Most people don’t need another meeting.
  • Give generously. Business is slowing and sales are down for most in our current conditions. Why not use this time for caring, brand building, and being outrageously kind? Invest in people and organizations you believe in.

We’re living in wild times, but we will get through this.

The question isn’t whether we’ll get through it, rather it’s who will we become on the other side?

The covid-19 global pandemic is proof of our interdependence. Each of us leaves a ripple into the lives of those around us. What we do in the days ahead matters.

Every economic shock leaves a legacy. What will yours be?

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