They call it The Great Pause.
Schools and universities are closed, events have been cancelled, public gatherings banned, and everyone who can work from home must do so.
A YouGov survey for the RSA, published today, reveals that not everyone wants life to return to “normal”.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the RSA, said that “we must use this time to imagine a better future”.
What might happen once the play button is pressed again? What will we take with us from this period, and what from the time BC (before Covid-19) will we leave behind with relief?
Here is the view from the Luma team on what some of those evolutions might be – and maybe a revolution or two.
Necessity is the mother of invention.
What inventions will Covid-19 create space for?
Extreme situations accelerate innovation. The World Wars gave rise to many things we now see as everyday: zips, superglue, Teflon. Car radio, tampons and electric razors were invented during the Great Depression. 9/11 led to leaps in security. The Global Financial Crash fostered a wave of lean, scalable social media and SaaS firms.
Our personal and business values, processes and infrastructure are being tested to their limits at the moment, which will lead to evolution. What will make the cut?
We anticipate a revolution in healthcare provision – every healthcare system around the world has been tested to its limits and now we really know what works.
The way we work
There is power in the phrase, “everyone who can work from home must do so”.
Some of us have often wondered at the futility of travelling for 3 hours a day to sit at a desk and breathe stale air to do the same task you could have done from home. Without the interruptions, office politics, traffic jams and so on. The need for social interaction isn’t enough, in our view, to justify the costs of a daily commute (or childcare).
Why hadn’t home working, flexible working, agile working, call it what you will, really taken off before? The biggest blocker has often been the dinosaur in the corner office. The person who believes that out of sight means out of mind. The person who hasn’t updated his or her skills in many years and is probably afraid of the unknown. The person that the tech revolution has passed by. The person who must evolve or become extinct.
Well, that person has recently been shoved (not nudged) into the digital age. And what an awakening it has been.
The way we think about work has been flipped on its head in the last month. All those very important people commuting into the city centre, bearing suits and high heels and laptops, have discovered that they’re not really very important at all and can do their job almost as well (often better) at home, in their joggers.
The “unskilled”, often earning minimum wage, are the ones doing the important work now. Putting their lives on the line to keep food on the shelves, collect the bins, look after the sick and vulnerable. Never again will a care worker be described as unskilled.
We predict a new level of respect for the labourers, the carers, the delivery people. And a new humility from the boardroom.
The way we shop
It’s been a revelation for some, how little we really need.
Gym membership? Nah, a run in the park, PE with Joe, online classes or a set-up in the garage. Swimming, tennis, dancing, French, piano lessons have come to a sudden stop, creating time for drawing, collecting spiders, building Lego. A new outfit for the weekend has been replaced with the clothes we forgot we had at the back of the wardrobe. Takeaway coffees and ready-made salads swapped for lockdown leftovers. Bottled water has been a surprising casualty. The latest iPhone… can’t make its way out of China, so the current model will do for another year.
Necessity has made us all focus on the essentials, leading to leaner budgets for households and businesses alike. We hope it lasts.
How we spend our time
Everything seems to be moving a little more slowly.
Without commuting and social engagements and gym classes and business networking, the non-key-workers among us have more time on our hands (yes, even those of us who are home schooling).
Proper conversations and thinking and getting on top of that pile of stuff in the kitchen. A return to home cooking and make-do-and-mend. And time with our families.
There is some deep thinking happening. Ruminating on purpose, values, why we do what we do in the way we do it. Also some insightful discussions about the businesses that are doing well at the moment (Johnson & Johnson, Morrisons) and those who are not (Virgin, Wetherspoons).
We predict some great ideas and fundamental shifts in the way people do business.
Shining a spotlight on equality
Never has staying home meant such different things to so many.
For those with good families, nice homes, stability, internet, a garden, food in the cupboard, and white-collar jobs that can be done from home, lockdown so far has been like a boring holiday.
But many aren’t so lucky. A third of children in the UK live in poverty and the housing crisis is well documented. Imagine if you will a family of four in a two-bed flat or terraced house (minimum standards…) with no garden. Picture broken windows, mould on the walls, a leaky washing machine (no tumble dryer), no dining table, one TV and no computer. Not enough money to survive to the end of the month. Insecure tenancy with a dodgy landlord.
The digital divide means that more affluent families with computers and good internet can maintain their children’s education and friendships while the schools are closed. The less fortunate are simply losing half a year of their education. Often the same children who are also reliant on school meals.
Domestic violence – already a growing problem with around two women dying from “domestic homicide” every week – has more than doubled since the lockdown trapped victims inside with their tormentors. Calls to helplines have skyrocketed and there is nowhere for victims to go. And we have never understood why it should be the victims of domestic violence who become homeless.
A rainbow in your window and clapping for the NHS is simply insufficient to acknowledge the social services brought to their knees this year.
We hope that one of the things that we take out of this pause be greater compassion and a drive to end violence against women and girls. We predict much better funding for NHS and social services, with an eye on the future and not just this year’s budget.
“A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” Mahatma Ghandi
The stories we tell
Every generation tells tales of heroism and the life unlived.
No, not bedtime stories with the children (although yes, bedtime stories with the children). The literature and TV shows and movies that we make. Cheshire Housewives (no folks, it’s not real). Comic book heroes. Post-apocalyptic zombie dramas. Goggle Box.
The people slaying our enemy right now are the unskilled, mostly women, earning minimum wage, stepping up to battle the Coronavirus without armour or weapons. And not going home to their family at the end of the day in order to keep them safe. These are the real heroes of 2020.
We predict a new era of storytelling. Stories about everyday heroes (more women!) doing remarkable things, quietly and in ordinary situations. More thoughtful, nuanced stories that reflect the complexity of life. Netflix’s The Platform is strangely appropriate in this moment.
Our viral apocalypse came. And guess what, no zombies or nuclear bombs. All we had to do was stay home and wash our hands.
How we connect with the environment
The habits that we have taken up during lockdown are also the habits that will reduce our environmental impact.
The roads are emptier, the air is cleaner, it’s so much quieter we can hear city birdsong. People are walking and cycling where they might have driven before. We are travelling less, eating more carefully, shopping locally. Air pollution in New York is down by 50% and CO2 emissions in China have fallen by 25%.
A dramatic, fleeting reduction in CO2 emissions isn’t going to reverse two centuries of harm, but it might be enough to teach us a lesson.
We’ve seen how we can mobilise to fight a viral pandemic; can we achieve the same for the climate crisis? Will a shift to a more sustainable economy that works for both people and planet be one of the great innovations that comes from The Great Pause? We can but hope.
A pause creates opportunity. An opportunity to think, reset, start again. As the world comes back to life, what will we choose to take with us from this period and what will we choose to leave behind?
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