Arnie Skelton, Managing Director, Effective Training & Development Ltd

While the pandemic has been a crisis, an emergency and a dreadful time for most of the population, stories are emerging of how some of us – perhaps many of us – can see changes occurring, due to the pandemic, that are actually helpful and positive, and may well persist after the pandemic is over.  

To address this, this article is in two parts. The first is a set of responses from a mini-survey I carried out – via WhatsApp – to friends and colleagues. A collection of their responses is given below, grouped under what I think are relevant headings.

The second part of this article draws some conclusions, and predicts how the positive impacts of this period might impact on future work and domestic ‘mindshifts’, resulting in either new ways of working or living, and/or frustrations with ‘the return to the same old ways…”

POSITIVE IMPACTS OF THE PANDEMIC

I wrote to a number of people, and asked them:

“Is there one thing that for you has changed for the better as a result of COVID19, and that you are likely to sustain when life returns to (so called) ‘normal’?”

Here are some examples from the replies I’ve received:

New events/initiatives

“A new participatory art network: every day each group member draws a portrait of a public figure/celebrity, and shares it with the group, who comment on each other’s work. It started as something small and diversionary in week one, and has evolved into something bigger and little more organised. It now has a name: Lockdown Art Fun”

Community involvement

In terms of Lockdown Art Fun, anyone and everyone is invited to take part. There have been some fabulous submissions and my practice has really moved on, too! I think this initiative likely to continue, post virus.”

“I’m more involved in my local community”

“remote volunteering for a local community garden…”

Personal change & development

“More reading. I have read 5 books, and am working on the 6th. Me – super dyslexic me…”

“Enjoying cooking for the first time in my life. It’s so creative! Ifeel like I’ve regained as well as discovered the new”

“I’m gradually winding down from the treadmill that was day to day work”

“It has been difficult to get to grips with the current situation, so when it gets too overwhelming I shut my eyes and concentrate on my breathing. This provides a pause, and a realignment of my mindset. This is something I’ve now learned, is effective for me, and something I will keep doing”

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“Getting more sleep. This is important as I feel my brain opening itself again. Sleep is vital”

“The thing I’ve valued most is more time and headspace. By not being in my normal routine, I’ve realised how continually ‘on’ I was….”

“getting to better grips with technology, so I’m reconnecting with cousins around the world (& helping my mum to do the same)”

“I always said that if I had more time I’d do more running, reading and knitting, and that’s just what has happened”

“I now enjoy taking my time to cook, and I use the time to listen to podcasts which I also find enjoyable…I will certainly be maintaining this post-lockdown”

Increased family connectedness

“I sit around reading and my children join me. A great example to my super-dyslexic daughter…”

“Weekly chats with family and friends that were previously months apart!”

“More patient with my partner!”

“Speaking to and catching up with friends and family”

“I’m homeschooling my boys aged 5 and 9. I’ve decided to do the school work in the morning, and my own ‘fun learning’ in the afternoon. I’ve been able to do things with them that they sometimes miss out on at school, and I’ve learned more about my sons as I see they both learn in different ways”

“I feel closer with the people that matter the most, and I’m valuing quality time together”

Getting out more (despite the restrictions!)

“I have discovered so many local walks and beautiful places that I would not have found had it not been for the pandemic. I’ve also discovered the benefits of a daily walk…”

“Morning walks, listening to the birds, and watching the blossom and leaves arrive”

“I’ve loved going out for a walk/run every day, before I start my work. As someone who was usually in the office for 7am this is a real shift for me, and one I intend to continue”

Creativity

“I’ve discovered I can be quite creative with very little food, so I think I’ll do much less food shopping in future”

“an upside is spending more time creatively than in fire fighting”

“I’ve begun to experiment with new vegan and vegetarian recipes, nd I’m generally eating healthier, more wholesome foods, due to having more time”

Economy

“I’ve been more careful with food, due to it being in short supply, and so I’ve had less waste – something I want to sustain when this is all over”

“Not wasting anything”

More appreciation

“I will always remember to be grateful for the little things I took for granted before”

“Appreciating the moment and keeping it simple.”

“Seeing and being impressed with so much care and kindness”

Increase in professional networking

“an upside is the incredible sharing and collaboration taking place among my colleagues and our wide networks”

New – and better? - ways of working, at an organisational level

“Upside is realising that change can happen, quickly. At policy level and at practice level”

I’m impressed with how adaptable everyone is. Everyone’s lives have changed dramatically, but we’re all finding solutions”

IMPLICATIONS FOR THE FUTURE

The one thing that’s certain about the future is….it’s uncertain, and perhaps never more so than now. We don’t know if, or when, we will come out of the pandemic, or whether there might be subsequent waves as, without a vaccine, people remain vulnerable to infection. It’s possible we’ll live a rollercoaster existence of being in and out of varying restrictions. And it’s almost certain that mask wearing might become part of our culture…but we just don’t know.

Although my sample is really small, it echoes with many of the stories we hear in the media, and most of the actual benefits can be summarised as:

  • More personal time and ‘headspace’ – perhaps leading to us developing ourselves as ‘human beings’ rather than ‘human doings’; a shift from a focus on tasks to a focus on relationships; from rushing to taking time; and even possibly from superficial to deeper, more meaningful conversations and experiences
  • Personal change and development – discovering and learning new skills
  • More appreciation of personal benefits and the kindness and dedication of others
  • A greater sense of, and involvement in, a wider community
  • More quality time with family and friends
  • Getting out more – every day. This has not only provided the benefit of exercise, but also helped many discover so many wonderful things, largely from the natural world, that had simply not been noticed before.
  • New initiatives and events – and also the speeding up of results that otherwise might have taken years, rather than weeks. Consider for the example, the impact on the environmental targets of the reduction in travel on the roads and in the air…
  • And underpinning much of the above, a greater use of, and familiarity and competence with, ‘new technology’. And allied to this, perhaps a greater comfort – even preference – for working from home.

Many people are on furlough, with every intention of returning to work. But how much will people’s perceptions of ‘work’ have changed in the meantime?

Here are some thoughts:

  • ‘work’ may no longer be seen as ‘a place to go to’. We have seen that many people can and may want to work from home. And the evidence is now in that, for many jobs, this is completely possible.
  • Accountability at last may be more to do with an individual’s results produced, rather than hours worked or physical attendance on site
  • Workers may be both more empowered with trust, and welcome it – no longer supervised or watched over ‘in work’, they are trusted to be ‘at work’
  • Work – in particular use of time - may become more productive on several fronts; zoom meetings will require far less travel – a significant saving of time and money; the way much of the Government and the NHS responded quickly and creatively to deal with the crisis has shown what can be achieved. We all saw the old saying come to life: “necessity is the mother of invention”. So without the ‘necessity’ to innovate, will many organisations return to safer, more staid, bureaucratic ways – or will that creative and energised response to the pandemic be sustained?
  • Misalignment and discontent. If the new, positive ways are replaced by a return to older, seemingly less powerful, creative, responsive and effective ways, will there be a real disconnect and despondency felt by those who thought this could be sustained, and instead, are asked to return to pre-pandemic ways that feel to them, simply ‘past their sell by date’…?

Inevitably, it will be a mixture of responses; and not everything pre-pandemic was bad, nor everything during the pandemic, good. But despite the suffering and loss created by the pandemic, there is clear evidence that some of the consequences have been positive, life affirming, and potentially transformational.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said:

“The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions”

The pandemic, for all its misery, has created new ideas, new ways of working, and new emotional resonance for many, with what’s important in work and life. Those minded for sustaining such changes may not easily ‘return’ to how it was. If the old guard persists in reverting to how it was, the could easily expect to see stormtroopers at their gates…..

 

Arnie Skelton, Managing Director, Effective Training & Development Ltd

(My thanks to all those who contributed their views to help in the writing of this article)

To hear more from Arnie subscribe to his podcast series "Top Ten Tips for Teachers and #FE Managers the Podcast Series" or visit his Newsroom on FE News.

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