The unintended benefits of COVID-19 – rediscovering long forgotten values

- March 23, 2020 4 MIN READ

There’s no way to sugarcoat the global pandemic of COVID 19 which, at the time of writing has killed 10,033 people and infected 244,950 people across 179 countries and territories, and numbers continue to rise. It has decimated numerous industry sectors, wreaked havoc on global markets and the UN Trade and Development Agency (UNCTAD) estimated on 9 March it will cost the global economy up to $2 trillion in 2020.

This article in no way intends to trivialise these catastrophic and indisputable facts. It is frankly awful, and no-one would choose this as a way to spend 2020.

But now here we are, and it seems to me that the world can use this time to slow down (in self-isolation) and smell the daisies (in their own back yard), which may, in turn, lead to a more balanced world when we come out the other side.

Respect for our Most Vulnerable citizens

For many of us, taking steps to self isolate, has been less to do with catching COVID19 ourselves, and more about ensuring we don’t pass it on to our sick and elderly populations.

In Australia, we have seen government after government, keeping pensions and disability payments low, well below the minimum wage. We have also seen numerous NDIS issues. I hope the respect and concern for these vulnerable community members that has shown itself in this crisis will carry-on into the new world, where we ensure they have the support they need both financially and emotionally.

Many people now realise they may not see elderly parents for some time and are reaching out to them more frequently by phone and Skype. Hopefully afterwards, it will continue. They will realise that time is precious and will make more effort.

Unintended Environmental benefits

As Hubei province shut down (including the lock-down of almost 60 million people), NASA posted the most amazing pictures showing a massive reduction in emissions, and social media buzzed.

The massive cloud of nitrogen dioxide that is visible over China in January disappeared entirely in February.

The European Agency’s Sentinel-5P Satellite picked up massive reductions in nitrogen dioxide (caused by cars, power plants and industry) over Northern Italy once it too went into lock-down. And just this week, the canals of Venice seem to be sparkling clean, with dolphins spotted swimming in them.

While it would obviously be impractical to keep the world’s citizens in permanent lock-down, it has provided a vision of what the world could be like with less pollution. Hopefully, it will motivate all of us, especially the hardened climate sceptics, to do our bit to reduce emissions and make that a permanent reality.

Changing the way we work and educate 

As countries go into lock-down, people are moving to “work from home” (WFH) scenarios and juggling kids with online schooling at home as well.

For years, employers have resisted remote working as a rule, but now they have no choice. They are scrambling to ensure their staff have video conferencing capabilities and all the software and hardware they need, and we even see news and television programs with remote guests.

Kids at home are adapting to online learning, and I have even seen an ex-colleague and friend of mine (who works at LinkedIn) conducting morning video conferences for his 5-year-old daughter, so she gets social interaction. Freelancers and sole traders have managed it for ages, but now it is mainstream, which opens up a world of work/life balance opportunities in the future.

Connecting with Family

As a mum to teens, I find it takes effort to get them off devices, between running them to sports activities, and their numerous social commitments.

Being engaged in family life comes somewhere at the very bottom of their priorities. While we are not yet in lock-down in Australia, we are spending more time at home “socially distancing” ourselves. Because they can’t make social arrangements or go to sport, my kids are more connected and engaged with my husband and me.

Our dinner table conversation is less about their social agenda (who needs dropping where, and when), and more about world events. They appreciate the stresses their parents have regarding the economic fall-out of COVID19, and they actively participate in the conversation to consider how we could manage as a family unit (team) in a possible lock-down.

We have discussed the potential pressure on Australia’s broadband network and that we may need to find offline activities to fill the time. To that end, we have talked about books we would like to read, skills we would like to learn or improve, games we could play (apparently we are all learning Monopoly Deal) and even (old fashioned) DVDs we haven’t watched. All of these topics contributing to learning more about each other.

For teens who have grown up in the narcissistic world of Snap Chat and Tik Tok, they have impressed me with their willingness to embrace a more offline and family-centric existence. I am actually looking forward to that potential time with them (though ask me again a few days into lockdown)

Appreciating the food we have

We have all watched scenes on the news of people in war-torn countries fighting over food from aid agencies. Never in a million years did I think something like that could happen in Australia until seeing the hideous and frankly sickening scenes of people hoarding toilet paper and fighting in supermarket aisles for pantry staples.

I have seen numerous posts comparing our current reality with the far worse realities experienced by refugees. I am led to believe the fear of a food shortage in Australia is so real, that some gardening centres have sold out of vegetable seedlings and seed packets.

Other people are proudly posting pics of their homemade bread – the result of being unable to find a convenient store loaf. Others still, are making their own reusable toilet paper from cleaning cloths and their overlocker sewing machine (though I must admit I am not ready to embrace that just yet)

While the government assures us that our food security is sound, the whole experience has given Australians an appreciation for the suffering of people in other countries and of refugees.

It has also created an interest in growing and making our own food, which can’t be a bad thing.

While COVID 19 is undoubtedly a disaster of global proportions, that we would not wish on our worst enemy, I believe we can find the key learnings and that it will act as a reset button for us all.

I hope it will empower us to move forward, embracing some long-forgotten and old-fashioned values like empathy, family and community, that got lost in the fast-paced pre-COVID19 world. And that we will thrive in a slower, less consumer-driven and cleaner world.

I also want to believe we will embrace the best of technology that allows us to work remotely, enjoy a better work-life balance and appreciate the good things we have in life.

Fiona Hamann is Founder and Principal of Hamann Communication – a full service PR and communications agency. She works with businesses of all sizes and across the globe, specialising in start-ups, Fintech, Construction and Real Estate including investor relations, IPOs, ASX listing and ICOs. She teaches PR at a Sydney college one day per week, and is passionate in sharing her knowledge with other small businesses and sole traders so they can avoid the pitfalls and mistakes she has already made.