How COVID-19 could change us forever

The world is being thrust into massive change, whether or not we’re prepared and regardless of whether we saw it coming. There’s no shortage of opinions about how long it will take for us to “get through this” or see economic recovery and it’s difficult to predict since we’re still learning so much about this virus and how it spreads. One thing is for certain though: things will never be the same.

Shortly before I was born along with my brother, my parents left Communist Poland and their families behind. Moving across continents promised survival and the opportunity to thrive. The transition wasn’t easy and we lived in economically depressed neighbourhoods. Nevertheless, I didn’t grow up with a sense of lack and I certainly didn’t imagine having to take the same steps in my life. COVID-19 is changing my perspective on things and it’s beginning to make me wonder what the future will look like for my now 16-year-old niece and 19-year-old nephew.

While my parents were forced to leave their homes in search of something better, we are being forced to stay put and examine the systems and frameworks we’ve built, for the better.
What does thriving look like in a post-COVID-19 world? How can we evolve through this experience? Will this recalibrate our culture in the ways we’ve been craving?

While we may be shaping a new world, the shifts we’re seeing taking place are actually rooted in macro change drivers that have been easily shoved to the periphery. Now, they’re simply harder to ignore and there’s opportunity to examine them in a new light.

Greater awareness of consumption patterns and the environment

Globally, air pollution kills an estimated 7 million people annually. The European Space Agency released videos showing how emissions over China were greatly reduced when factories shut down in response to the coronavirus crisis, and their eventual return as business resumed. It’s estimated that the virus lockdown in China saved 77,000 lives by reducing pollution. This data was obtained from December 20th to March 16th and demonstrates how much our consumption patterns affect our health and how quickly harmful environmental effects can be reversed. Similarly, researchers in New York shared that carbon monoxide mainly from cars had been reduced by nearly 50% since the city was hit by the virus, compared with last year. Then there’s the impact individuals and families can have by staying home. When trips to stores are limited and nothing but essentials are available for consumption, people are left to question their spending habits and and how much we waste as households.

Will this pandemic force us to become more resourceful and question the complexity of our global supply chains? Will being stuck indoors indefinitely help us finally realize how important being outdoors is for our health and well-being?

Reliance on digital technology for work and education

What we’re seeing now with the global workforce and education system is akin to a worldwide experiment with the future of work. Working from home has become the new normal for companies that can make it happen, while parents attempt to juggle daily business with taking care of their kids. Higher education institutions have been ironing out the kinks with providing online classes and companies like Zoom, Slack and Microsoft Teams are experiencing a massive spike in usage. With the quick nature of change we see happening as countries respond to COVID-19, we see organizations, teams and entire industries adapting on the fly. We’re seeing the value of relationship building and the importance of trust and transparency within companies as business has moved online.

Will we be quick to rush back to 9-5 office life when we’re invited to resume business-as-usual practices? Are traditional 4-year college degrees a thing of the past when we’re equipped to access remote classes deployed from across the world?

Compassion for social and economic inequities

From the digital divide, to growing nationalist sentiments, the strength of the #MeToo movement, and the rise of the ultrarich, the world has always been separated into the haves and have-nots. With businesses shuttering and putting an indefinite hold on plans in the wake of social distancing, it appears that just about anyone can be at risk of losing their livelihood and sense of security. This new perspective is simultaneously unnerving and humbling. In response, businesses are supporting local organizations aimed at providing for the less fortunate. Restaurants are donating meals to pay-what-you-can grocery stores. Hotels are providing rooms for the homeless to keep them healthy during the crisis. Governments are considering the enactment of targeted basic incomes, or UBI’s, to support the greater population.

Will this coronavirus crisis prove to be the great leveler? Will we find ways to narrow the gaps in access to quality healthcare, education and healthy food around the world?

Growing desire for collective healing and personal development

The WHO is advocating for an end to the term “social distancing”, replacing it with “physical distancing”. If this experience is teaching us anything, it’s that social connection is crucial to our collective health, now more than ever. Ironically, while technology was blamed for the global loneliness epidemic we were experiencing until the virus hit our homes, online digital gathering spaces and social media channels have become hubs for connectivity and have strengthened existing, and created new, community bonds. While yoga studios have shuttered their doors, they’ve opened up discounted online yoga classes and some have made them free for support workers. Creatives and artists are popping up online with live DJ sets, poetry readings, guided meditations, and honest conversations about the ways in which facing our collective anxieties are offering us an opportunity to learn, grow and heal.

How can we tap into this moment in time to create new ways to be playful, connected and inspired? As we’re being forced to face our greatest anxieties head-on, how can we apply practices like meditation and self-awareness to our daily lives, now and into the future?

Ultimately, this global pandemic is forcing us to examine our personal and societal resilience in the face of abrupt and massive change. The steps we take now and the choices we make moving through and out of it will determine whether we enact a version of the many dystopian sci-fi novels written to-date, return to what we’ve always known, or forge a brave new world.

I, for one, hope for the latter.