You can’t open a newspaper these days without frightening reports about companies that are about to collapse or self-employed people who won’t make it to the end of the month. The Dutch cabinet is doing everything in its power to limit the damage. All of a sudden we turn out to be a lot more vulnerable than we thought.
But what you can see is that we are all incredibly flexible and creative when it comes to dealing with these new circumstances. Despite the vulnerabilities we are now facing. No matter how horrible, bizarre or any other negative words you use to describe this crisis, there is always something positive to be gained from it. From start-ups that help schools continue their education online, to scientists eagerly looking for a vaccine.
There is the bigger picture as well. Which Merien Ten Houten, one of our founding members, has already written a column on. As in, what will the world look like after this corona crisis? Are we going to go back to where we left off? Or is something substantial really going to change? According to Yuval Noah Harari, historian and author of the books ‘Sapiens‘, ‘Homo Deus‘ and ‘21 lessons for the 21st century‘, humankind faces an important choice. Harari hopes that we will choose for cooperation and universal solidarity. According to him, it is only then that we will be able to overcome this crisis. As well as the disasters that are yet to come. (Here’s the whole article, also highly recommended because of the wonderful photography).
Learning from crisis
Anyone who also sees opportunities in this difficult period is workforce futurologist Arjen Banach. Dutchman Banach is investigating (on his own initiative) how companies work and how they can do this in a future-oriented way. He wrote on this subject in his book ‘De organisatie vibe’ (The organization vibe), in which he describes six principles for future-oriented work. “What is happening at the moment has an impact on a lot of people. It is of vital importance now that sick people are helped. But we can also learn a lot from this.”
Banach views our way of working as being constructed like a kind of pyramid made up of blocks. Whereby each new way of working builds on previous procedures: “It is a set way of working that we are all accustomed to. Often this way of working is not dreamt up by employees, but comes from the top tier of a company.”
Due to a virus that is keeping almost everyone at home, this familiar way of working is on the way out. As a consequence, people suddenly have to come up with something novel, Banach explains by telephone while out for a walk. “Everyone has their own idea how that could be done. What you see now is that young businesses like start-ups or companies in the technical sector are capable of adapting very quickly. But even large companies aren’t lagging behind. Things such as remote workspaces are now being set up at record speed. The fact that the need is here right now, proves that we can actually be very flexible.”
Schedule suddenly a lot less full
In his view, this crisis also offers scope for reflection. “All around me I hear that people are having a much quieter time. Whereas previously they were always busy with – in their eyes – urgent matters. But even now you see that many companies just keep on going. This period in time offers a bit of space for evaluating if what you were working on is really worthwhile. Because apparently things can be done differently.”
“I want to encourage people to think. People need to find out for themselves whether the work that they’re doing actually matters. Or if it can be done in some other way.” Arjen Banach
How do we make sure that after the Corona era, we don’t go back to business as usual? “This requires people to take a critical look at what they’re busy with. It demands a rebellious mindset from employees. Do I raise my hand if I see that things can be done differently, or do I follow orders? Because the way of working as we know it isn’t necessarily the best way. Management has an important role to play in this too. Because employees may feel that things should be done differently, except at some point they will run into a wall.
Or perhaps certain jobs are bound to disappear. Banach doesn’t want to go there: “That’s pointless, I don’t want to push that. But I do want to make people think. Whatever the situation, we can see this as an opportunity. You can learn from this. Maybe fewer office buildings will be needed later because being able to work remotely is fine.”
The cycle between self-confidence and angst
Jempi Moens, psychologist and business advisor, agrees with Banach to a large extent. Together with the University of Ghent, he devised a model for gaining insight into the behaviour and needs of society. “More than 40 years of research show that the mental development of a society moves in a wave pattern between self-confidence and angst. The zeitgeist where we currently find ourselves in determines how we react to events such as today’s corona virus.”
According to Moens, the attitude towards the SARS outbreak was very different compared to what we’re seeing now. “Then there was a mentality of ‘we can beat this.‘ Levels of self-confidence were much higher. Now the reaction is generally more panic-stricken. It seems as if the world is coming to an end, we’re listening to the government. The attitude is totally different.”
A sense of solidarity and the realization that we cannot live without each other is merely being reinforced by the current crisis. You can already see that what with all the platforms aimed at helping each other shooting out of the ground. Not to make money, but because people want to be useful.” Jempi Moens
This is not necessarily solely due to the corona crisis, because Moens explains that the front covers of newspapers and magazines like Der Spiegel and Time have already been showing more terrifying covers for a year and a half. “You see that people have a greater need for security, structure and companionship. That wave was already underway, but now this turning point is gaining speed thanks to the corona virus.”
Changing the world for the better
But however uncertain and anxious these times may be, Moens expects plenty of positive things to come out of the corona crisis: “You can already observe this among start-ups and a lot of young entrepreneurs. They want to make the world more beautiful, smarter, greener or whatever. It’s about redoing things and they want to do that together. They don’t run a business for their own sake but rather they want to change things for the better. A sense of solidarity and the realization that we cannot live without each other is merely being reinforced by the current crisis. You can already see that what with all the platforms aimed at helping each other shooting out of the ground. Not to make money, but because people want to be useful.”
This awareness will contribute to people becoming more interested in real contact, Moens believes: “We are going to appreciate more than we do now human contact, being together or having a chat with your colleague at the coffee machine. I hope that people will no longer ask ‘everything OK?’ but ‘how are you?’ instead.
In psychology, the theory is that when you break out of routine, space opens up for new behavior. That’s an encouraging thought in this day and age. At the moment we still react from adrenaline. We want to deal with things head on and we want to help. But within a few weeks there will be more room for reflection. This in turn leads to room for creativity and insights. I also think there will be more social discussions. I’m not an economist, but I think valuing what is local and intimate is gaining momentum. Why do we export 80 % of our meat, to give an example?”