Crisis is the mother of community

—Gratitude, mutual respect and trust all grow when we share the same fears and anxieties, says Patrick Gladney—

Yesterday, I got an email from a roofing company with the subject line “A message to our fellow citizens of the GTA.” It was the second email I’ve received from them since the COVID-19 crisis began. I think they replaced a couple of shingles for me following a windstorm four years ago.

While well intended, I couldn’t help but chuckle at their message (emphasis theirs): “We need to be kind and considerate of one another, practice responsibility by socially isolating, and to keep in my mind that this situation will not last forever. There is a real opportunity to better connect with our families, friends and piers” (sic).

While I would not typically expect to receive social guidance from a roofer, the message did shine a light on an important trend: the renewal of community from crisis.

There is little doubt the pandemic has increased our appreciation of community. We are seeing it shape our daily interactions. New relationships are forming. People are reassessing their values. And once we are on the other side of COVID-19, there’ll be a chance to capitalize on this trend and generate economic value and business opportunity.

In Toronto, I see people on the street giving each other a wide berth, but they are saying hello to strangers instead of averting their eyes. We share a common viral enemy and experience surviving the spring of isolation, which motivates us to check in with a nod of the head that says “I’m good, how about you?”

Isolated at home, with less work available, people are taking the time to Zoom with old colleagues and meet with new people. Conversations started now could become new opportunities to grow once this crisis is over.

Younger people are gaining a new appreciation for things they once took for granted. The significance of gratitude, mutual respect and trust become magnified when the size of our world shrinks and we all share the same fears and anxieties.

So, what will be the community impact in a world when the effects of COVID-19 are less oppressive?

Local communities will emerge stronger than ever. When people come out from isolation, they’ll be tentative at first. Aside from family, the first people we’ll all see will be our neighbours. People will still be reluctant to travel, but neighbours will be eager to support local businesses like restaurants and retail that have suffered tremendously. Local charities and social services serving the most vulnerable should benefit. Local symbols akin to “Boston Strong,” but on a more micro or neighbourhood level, will emerge on new must-have items like face-covering scarves.

Businesses will need to identify a new culture and rhythm. Following wide-scale layoffs and furloughs, it’s highly unlikely everyone will make their way back to their old jobs. Companies with staffing holes will need to figure out how to generate the same level of productivity as before with fewer people. Companies that go into hiring mode will need to contend with an overwhelming number of candidates, which will slow the hiring process. Companies that maintained their staff and those with a well-defined culture, now forged digitally, will be fastest to rebound.

A generation of COVID-boomer businesses will be born. New relationships and connections forged during the slowdown will inspire innovations and ideas that reflect our different world. Many people will take the “time off” to pursue training and reconsider their careers. A wave of post-COVID direct-to-consumer companies born in people’s living rooms will begin searching for capital.

There’s no question the profound impact that COVID-19 is having on our lives, families and economy. Unlike recessions of the past 50 years, it contains the double whammy of health and economic impact. But like past downturns, good will come out of COVID-19 in the form of the reconstituted and flourishing “community,” in its many forms, that will hopefully endure.

And I might just get my roof done.

Patrick Gladney is the founder and principal at Collective Motion, a data-driven digital marketing consultancy.

Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash