Crisis as a Catalyst for Change – The only people who like change are wet babies

By Dian Cohen

Although I don’t usually take kindly to external directives, I AM in the “vulnerable” category of older people with respiratory issues. So I haven’t been out of the house in about 10 weeks. Has your behavior changed since you learned what “social distancing” means?
Certainty has no place in these speculations, but here are some areas to ponder.

“Personal hygiene and sanitation is top of mind and that should last.”
So says Don Tapscott, who writes often about organizational change. “We’ve all become hyperaware of germs… Forget about kissing the cheeks of friends or shaking the hands of colleagues — a demonstrative nod of the head or a crisp bow from the waist will do! “So the next time an opportunity arises, will you resume physical contact with strangers? Should anyone be touching at that next event?

9 to 5 at the office?
Even before COVID-19, the office was looking iffy. Home working had been rising steadily for a decade, thanks to a combination of rising rents, the telecommunications revolution and increased demands for flexible working. For employees: greater satisfaction due to the increased flexibility in their schedules, decreased commute time, and ability to spend time with family; for employers: greater productivity, a wider talent pool, and reduced office costs. How many companies will introduce “work-from-home” policies ranging from a set number of days per month to 100% flexibility?

Take 2 aspirin and call me in the morning
Telemedicine is already estimated to be a $36b industry in the US, where 96% of the nation’s large employers (500+ employees) offer insurance plans that cover telehealth. Telehealth offers employees and general consumers a convenient way to receive care. For employers it mitigates the need for employees to leave work to receive care. COVID-19 has encouraged all provincial governments to pay for virtual doctor visits that can reduce potential exposure to infected patients and/or help people triage their symptoms before deciding to seek care. Will this reduce the eventual in-person burden on urgent care clinics and hospitals?

What are MOOCs?
There are hundreds of millions of pre-K to 12 students around the world who are missing class due to school closures. It is still unclear whether university closures will stretch through the entire Spring semester. Yet massive open online courses (MOOCs) have been around for a decade and are used by about 20% of the more than one million students in Canada. The online education industry is already in high gear. It’s not perfect, and it will have to figure out how to address challenges such as student loneliness, and education that traditionally required in-person observation, but there’s potential for online education to rapidly scale up the training of healthcare workers, from doctors and nurses to home health aides and paramedics. Will academic institutions return to what they were doing in physical classrooms, or will they move more online?
Google “online shopping sites” and 2,980,000,000 results come up in 0.92 seconds
It didn’t happen overnight. The suburban malls and big box stores that displaced mom-and-pop shops on Main Street are now being displaced by online shopping. How many brick-and-mortar retailers will reopen as they were or at alll?

Don’t hand me cash
If we can’t use cash in a crisis, do we really need it in normal times? How are people without access to online banking, checking accounts, or other financial services going to pay their bills?

More than half of Canada’s social venues are still closed
They’ve been replaced by people gathering online, simultaneously streaming movies and chatting via mobile app or over social media. If our bars, coffee shops, and sports arenas survive, will they also reopen as they were?
How we shop, how we exercise have changed – garden centres are seeing unprecedented demand for seeds; the desire for physical and mental health wellness, outdoor fun and fitness, while remaining safely isolated, are all driving factors for the significant increase in bike demand. Will it last? I’m guessing a lot of it will.
Dian Cohen is an economist and a founding organizer of the Massawippi Valley Health Centre.
For information and to share ideas for future columns, contact Dian at:

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