Construction: Expansion/Contraction

As some things contract, others expand and vice versa. Like the ‘exploration’ I came across (photo above), we are all part of a landscape intervention that is expanding and contracting to accommodate a variety of site conditions.

The last two weeks in the UK, where I am, have been stunning in the expansion of some aspects and the contraction of others.  We are all exploring ‘site conditions’, and adapting to them organisationally, individually and collectively/societally.   I agree with a colleague who emailed saying, ‘I feel a shift in the collective consciousness which can hopefully be for the good of society and nations as a whole’.

Another colleague sent me the link to an excellent blog from Otto Scharmer, Eight Emerging Lessons: From Coronavirus to Climate Action.  One of his eight lessons is that ‘If the coronavirus crisis has brought home anything, it’s that we — each of us, separately and together — can change the system. … our mindful behavior is needed to avoid a breakdown of the system.’  We need to change the system, not break the system.

The system is inevitably changing – and it’s our responses to those changes that I’ve been noticing and experiencing in the last couple of weeks.

At all three levels (organisationally, individually and collectively/societally) I’ve noticed and experienced expansion of:

Neighbourliness:  There are signs going up on trees around my block, in the lift in my flat and Nextdoor has a new feature: ‘Find neighbours who can help or offer your support to those in need on the Help Map’.  If you don’t know nextdoor, it’s worth a look.  It’s an on-line ‘neighbourhood hub for trusted connections and the exchange of helpful information, goods, and services.’ You join for your postcode/zip code area. In the ‘About’ section it says, ‘We believe that by bringing neighbours together, we can cultivate a kinder world where everyone has a neighbourhood they can rely on’. Traffic in my neighbourhood has sky-rocketed.

Community spirit: Akin to neighbourliness, I’ve noticed a sharp rise in community spirit – a kind of ‘we’re all in this together’.  There’s a lovely piece on this in ‘The Atlantic’ that reads ‘We are witnessing people everywhere, acting mostly independently but all together, shutting our country down—a move that ensures millions will face a massive, incalculable economic hit—to give the weakest among us a better chance against the novel coronavirus. We are each sacrificing our daily routines—our gyms and coffee shops and offices—to keep health-care professionals from becoming overwhelmed… It is a collective act of almost unprecedented community spirit, a fundamental statement of how we stand together as a species.’

Creative thinking:  There are some wonderful ideas.  I love the #campathome from Northumberland Scouts, and the bingo from balconies.  More seriously, the BBC has some good links for ‘The School of Mum and Dad

Certain job roles:  Some sectors are expanding their workforces in response to the new landscape.  The NHS is calling on retired medical staff to step forward to cover and Tesco (a supermarket) is recruiting 20k people:  ‘The supermarket is just one of several taking on around 50,000 staff between them over the next 12 weeks to cope with the surge in demand as people prepare to self isolate’.

I’ve noticed and experienced contraction of:

Food, grocery and household items: as peoplepanic buy.

Community face to face gatherings:  school, music, talks, sports, churches, pubs, restaurants, many many retail shops are closed for the moment.

Security of ‘normal’ routines: these are breaking down as people’s lives are disrupted, but there’s quite a bit of info on the importance of structure and routines for maintaining mental health, for example, Get Dressed and Set Goals and The Power of Routines in Your Mental Health

Certain job roles: some sectors are being particularly badly hit.  The film and entertainment sectors are two.  An article in Forbes lists a whole lot of others.

I’ve noticed and experienced exploration of:

Social distancing:  I’ve now been involved a book club (over Zoom), group Skype/Teams calls – social and work, and we’re a few of us are about to try a cinema trip – thanks to Netflix+google hangouts, and I’m also doing a virtual 5k run.  There’s an excellent discussionof social distancing with Stanford psychologist Jamil Zaki who says, ‘Social distancing has been vital to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. But it’s important that people remain connected – otherwise a long-term mental and physical health crisis might follow the viral one’.  He thinks ‘we should begin by reframing what we’re doing right now. “Social distancing” was the wrong term to begin with. We should think of this time as “physical distancing” to emphasize that we can remain socially connected even while being apart. In fact, I encourage all of us to practice “distant socializing.” Ironically, the same technologies we often blame for tearing apart our social fabric might be our best chance, now, of keeping it together.’

Learning that looking after your mental health is important/urgent:  the UK’s Mental Health Foundation has two tip sheets for managing your mental health in current times  Looking after your mental health while working during  and Talking to your children about the coronavirus pandemic and there’s a very good info piece with lots of links from The Independent.

Really getting to grips with remote working (office, school work… ):  There’s a lovely story on how BBC radio and TV hosts are keeping their shows on air from home and my own colleagues are working out things like how four people working from home can each have their own workspace, how to work with toddlers/children around and how to effectively use all the available technologies.

Trying to work out what’s going on (sensemaking): An article from Design Week is interesting on this topic.  One of several people quoted is Jo Barnard, founder of product design company Morrama ‘design studios frequently work collaboratively.  I’ve always been of the belief that sketch sessions, project reviews and design crits are best carried out in person. … There is also a potential problem of loneliness and impact on wellbeing, as creatives are forced to work remotely. Despite its challenges — and it is perhaps too early to identify all of them — this could be a chance to rethink how designers work.’

What I think could be a silver lining in all this (see the blog from the Oxford Ethics Group on coronavirus silver linings) is that it could be a chance to re-construct, rethink and change our social and other systems for the better.

Leandro Herrero asks the question: ‘What if we did that? What if we treated the coronavirus pandemic as a chance in a lifetime to surprise ourselves, surprise our colleagues, surprise our clients, surprise the market with our new ‘us’. Not survived, and tired, and happy to still be running, but unpredicted and unexpectedly better, fantastic, enhanced by a serious multiple.’ In his view ‘It’s doable.’

What’s your view?  What are you seeing being constructed, expanded, contracted explored?  Let me know.

Image: Construction: Expansion/contraction