Lockdown, Covid and furlough were words we had probably never used before this year. But are now part of our everyday lexicon. But it’s not just words, but lived experience, that inspired this group of five people to begin a process of profound re-evaluation.
This is the output from three months of Zoom calls, chats, confessions, big questions and banter during lockdown. It isn’t a manifesto, it isn’t an agenda, but it might just be the beginnings of a better way to live our lives.
Suddenly, many of us found we had a lot more time than we could imagine. For some, this was scary, especially the self-employed amongst us, but after the initial shock, the extra time allowed us to begin thinking creatively about how we could overcome the challenges of lockdown, re-engineer our businesses and begin to build back better. For those who continued to work at or near full capacity from home, not having to commute or attend pointless meetings meant we still had more time to dedicate to what we begun to reappraise and appreciate as the important things. Having extra time and flexibility allowed us to shop more locally and cook more adventurous and wholesome meals rather than dragging ourselves round a supermarket to buy a frozen meal to sling in the microwave before collapsing in front of Netflix.
Most of us found we had more time on our hands and we used this to think pretty hard about lots of things. It was through this reflection that we began to question our views on the important things. New perspectives and insights flowed from this period of – sometimes enforced – reflection. It’s perhaps a habit we should make more time for when and if things return to normal.
Under the strictest part of the lockdown, getting outdoors in nature to exercise was the highlight of the day – and the importance of being outdoors in nature assumed a much higher priority. Some missed the buzz of crowded pubs, restaurants and events, but for others, not having to deal with packed supermarkets, overcrowded trains or congested roads was a revelation. Yet despite the absence of crowds, seeking contact with smaller groups of friends or neighbours became more important. The weekly NHS clap was a focal point for many communities – as was the rapid emergence of neighbourhood mutual support groups. The experience differed quite dramatically for rural and city dwellers, the former really appreciated direct access to wide open spaces; the latter understood the importance of access to well-maintained green spaces inside the city limits.
Working less intensely, not commuting, having time to exercise properly meant many of us had more energy to dedicate to life outside work. Some of us found new balance between working and family life and were inspired to become much more engaged parents. There was a sense that work consumes too much energy, leaving little inclination at the end of a busy day to engage in the community, nature friendships and be properly present for wives and children. There was also a sense that a lot of the demand work placed upon us were arbitrary and unnecessary.
The combination of more time and more energy triggered a surge in creativity which created a positive environment for innovative responses to working through the pandemic. Too often, our working lives are spent ticking boxes and jumping through hoops; leaving precious little time or energy to maintain a sense of mission and purpose. There was a consensus that this needs to change, post-pandemic, and a new-found willingness to take risks to bring this change about.
Essentially, we all agreed that we spent too much time chasing short term goals, career progression and the material benefits that go with working a 50-60 hour week without stopping to examine the reasons why.
We justify spending 10-15 hours a week on the road or on the train and working longer hours and jumping though those hoops to provide what we think out families want – smarter clothes, flasher cars, fancier holidays, and accept the sacrifices these entail.
Stripped of these day-to-day indicators, brought closer to what matters, forces us to question why we even do what we do. Conversely, those of us who do value our professional ambitions have placed our skills into a more focused perspective.
None of this is rocket science and some of us are lucky enough to have a degree of agency in maybe choosing to work less hard in the future and perhaps focus on providing more of what our families and communities need rather than want. We can choose to adopt more of the healthy behaviours set out above and have a positive impact on our immediate communities.
THE BIGGER PICTURE
From a wider perspective, millions of people in poorly paid, insecure jobs do not have the privileges we enjoy. Many of them work 60 or 70 hours a week simply to make ends meet.
Covid has exposed some fundamental fragilities at the heart of our society. Like the shortcomings of ‘just in time’ supply chains, Covid has revealed a swathe of ‘just about coping’ communities which could still be devastated by the legacy of this crisis.
These people are working too hard to properly look after themselves or their families. They have no spare time or energy left to invest in wider society and they are often bounced into compounding the challenges they face by making unhealthy lifestyle choices.
By pulling together in the early stages, our society coped well with the initial shock to the system. The immediate instinct to contribute and help more vulnerable in society was a powerful impulse. But the aftershocks have the potential to flatten the fragile post-Covid recovery.
The government also addressed the immediate threat posed by Covid and effectively declared a national emergency. In so doing they demonstrated that a national priority can mobilise a state to save lives and reboot society. What if they took the same approach to tacking climate change? Or child poverty?
The key learning is: society was able to pull together to withstand the initial shock because millions of people suddenly had the time and resources to look out for and look after both themselves and the more vulnerable people in their immediate communities.
But if normal service is resumed, and all working age people are forced back onto the treadmill, the cracks will soon begin to reappear.
In order to build back better, everyone who needs to work to earn a living needs greater financial security and agency and a bigger slice of Britain’s GDP.
Lockdown gave us – educated, skilled, comfortably off, privileged and socially engaged – the time, space, energy and creativity to redesign our working lives to work better for ourselves, our families and our communities.
We are on a journey, a long walk to examine where our values and our ambitions are in alignment. There are plenty of others out there doing the same thing – More in Common, the RSA, the People’s Powerhouse, the Churches, local groups closer to where we all are. Even Freshwalks has been empowered and boosted by a new sense of purpose.
At the heart of it are relationships. Stripping out the transactional and replacing it with a conversation, an understanding, a shared sense of what we can do collectively, differently, to change to recognise the value in each other. This requires a regular commitment of time and energy over the long term.
Here’s a final quote that kind of sums everything we learned up:
“Relationships of all types are built on small, consistent deposits of time. If you want to connect with your kids, your family, your neighbours, your community, your colleagues, your world, your ‘whatever’, you’ve got to be available consistently, not randomly. You can’t cram in what’s most important at the time and hope that’ll do.” Simon Calderbank
- If you’ve got this far and some of this resonates, feel free to share it. There’s also a downloadable PDF with some additional insights available. And if you fancy a chat with us, get in touch.