29 Apr 2020

Observing physical distancing with Covid-19

Nature puts things in perspective. On a beach walk at Rabbit Island you could be excused for thinking ‘what pandemic?’. 

We are breathing an enormous sigh of relief that New Zealand is heading in the right direction with consecutive days of single digit Covid-19 cases. And yet, we know tough times lie ahead.

After almost five weeks of lockdown, restrictions have eased for Alert Level 3. 

Watching the boilers firing up at Nelson Pine Industries, seeing tradies back on building sites and industrial facilities reopening is a positive sign. 

I have discovered during lockdown how easy it is to be a successful procrastinator. The sudden dramatic shift from regular work routines to no work took some getting used to.

After the initial shock of being told to stay home and stay safe, there are some upsides. There could also be unintended consequences beyond the massive economic impact.

More exercise outdoors -  An explosion of walkers and cyclists on the streets has replaced the regular flow of vehicles. There is a friendly vibe around our neighbourhood. 

Families are enjoying more relaxation time. Being thrown together for extended periods can also increase tensions in households so having some time out is pretty important. 

Less commuting - means reduced traffic flows and less pollution. Working from home has opened up more possibilities for remote working using collaboration tools and platforms like Zoom and Google hangouts.  

On the other hand, will employers respond to this shift and continue to offer flexible options for working from home? How will businesses foster teamwork and, with less corridor conversations, avoid misunderstandings or a lack of communication?

Stronger local communities – Offers of help have come in thick and fast to support older and vulnerable people in our communities.  The lockdown has strengthened local community networks. 

However, will we be more reluctant to connect with strangers or initiate new conversations over the months ahead before a Covid-19 vaccine becomes available? Will people be more cautious about socialising and spending money?

Support for local businesses - We understand the importance of supporting small local businesses in these tough times, the people who we know and trust. 

But, if we only support established businesses, will this stifle new ideas and fledgling entrepreneurs who could reinvigorate our local economy? Let's be open to new opportunities as well as the tried and true.  

Talented people with less well developed networks (newcomers, individuals made redundant and people living alone) may feel more socially isolated and struggle to find work in these tough times unless we open up more creative networking opportunities. 

More virtual meetings - Virtual meetings and webinars have skyrocketed to replace the face to face interaction we took for granted. Having access to new tools and technology makes a big difference for working from home.

I don’t know about you, but I find large group virtual meetings hard going when you are staring at a screen filled with faces. I prefer to mix it up with more informal phone or video chats.

Better work life balance – Are we going to sustain the gains as the restrictions ease – a better balance between work and leisure, nutritious home cooking, more quality time with family, less commuting time and keeping up our new exercise routines?

It's very easy to slip back into old habits that might not serve us well. I’m not so sure about our ability to stick to healthy home cooking after observing long queues for takeaways as restrictions eased. 

Slowing down - One thing I am committed to is slowing down, being more purposeful about the projects I take on, allowing more time for reading and reflection, and embracing solitude to reconnect with my true self so I can connect better with others. And yet ...

Pivot or Pause – All of a sudden, we are expected to pivot to a new business direction if our existing business model has come under pressure. Of course, in the short term we need to retain workers and generate income. 

However quick fixes may not solve complex longterm challenges for doing things differently and creating a more sustainable and equitable future. For example, this is likely to involve more retraining and upskilling for displaced workers.

More intergenerational consultation and collaboration will help us find better solutions that unlock new work opportunities and generate sustainable businesses.  


Mary Somervell

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