As schools are shut across the UK and older people are particularly encouraged to isolate (including being discouraged them from caring for younger children), there will be very few people of working age who will not need to devote significant time to caring for friends, families and neighbours.
The division between ‘carers’ and ‘others’ feels increasingly artificial. The care that we provide for each other is critical for holding our families, communities, and workplaces together — while that’s often overlooked in calmer times, it’s profoundly clear during the pandemic.
We are in the early stage of understanding what coronavirus will mean for our health, our society, and the way that we relate to, and connect with, each other. I hope that we can not just respond and survive the current crisis but learn more about how we can and do support each other, which we can continue to acknowledge and appreciate once we get closer to returning to whatever longer-term ‘normal life’ will mean.
Wellbeing and productivity are interdependent
In February, I wrote about Wellcome’s burgeoning staff networks, and in particular our growing Parents and Carers network. That was written in another time, another age.
We used to live in a world where we frequently asked each other to tuck in complex caring responsibilities around our work priorities so that we could maximise our productive working time. This will be nearly impossible for many over the next few months.
Wellcome, like others, has become an all-remote organisation. We’re thinking a lot about new ways to enable ourselves to be as effective as possible as an organisation — for us measured in the positive impact we can have through supporting science to improve the health of humanity — while ensuring that we are each playing the best role we can as citizens as the pandemic progresses.
The medical response to coronavirus will undoubtedly be key in bringing the risk level down and enabling many of the current social restrictions to loosen. Wellcome is funding work into new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines, and supporting our partners to do whatever they can to bring these products forward.
At the same time, the more that we can all support each other to physically isolate ourselves and thereby reduce the spread and the burden on our healthcare systems — while nurturing our social connections through other means — the more effective the response will be and the flatter the epidemic curve.
Over the year since we concluded our programme to look at the case for a four-day week I’ve been really keen to learn more about how we can maximise wellbeing and productivity as interdependent features of the modern workplace. One thing feels really true in these first weeks of the pandemic — our capacity and pace to burn through lots of work will get much slower and reduced, which will force us collectively both to prioritise even more; and to challenge with even more energy any drift towards presenteeism and overwork.
I know that we’ll learn a huge amount from those who already work fully remotely, juggle caring responsibilities or manage significant adjustments to their daily life; and from those friends and colleagues in many Asian countries who have been working with these conditions (successfully) over the last few months.
One thing is certain
This will be a trying and testing time for everyone, in ways that we may not yet know. We also don’t know what the long term effects will be of this period; both through opportunities to work and live better as a society, and in new risks to our wellbeing. That uncertainty is OK — at this stage, we don’t need all of the answers.
But it is clear that the way we care for each other over the coming months will determine the success of our response to this pandemic, and the way we emerge from it.
NOTE FROM THE EDITORS: We are delighted to share this wonderful blog from Ed Whiting this week. Ed is the Director of Strategy at the Wellcome Trust and is also the Executive Leadership Team sponsor of Wellcome’s policy function, strategic partnerships and mental health priority area. With experience in public policy both inside and outside of Government, Ed has had a very impressive career so far! Thank you for letting us share your wonderful blog Ed!
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