Will D&I benefit from covid-19 – or suffer?

Solidarity everywhere and an incredible boost of flexible working. Many believe that covid-19 causes the long-awaited transformation at work and that key people will feel differently about individual work arrangements in the future. This may be wishful thinking…

As the Media is vastly dominated by covid-19 reports, the coverage includes numerous remarkable initiatives the pandemic has caused. While many are impressed by the examples of solidarity, creative solutions and unstoppable determination to make things work, there is unfortunately another side as well. For everyone is trying to use the crises to advance their agenda. We have to wonder what the future will look like – post covid-19. Maybe underlying wars are going on that could produce winners or losers.

Solidarity or Suspiciousness?

Each day, the media feature new and amazing initiatives about people helping people in challenging situations. Hence, we could tend to think that the collective threat brings out the good in humans – and to some extend this seems to hold true. However, what about hoarding? What about the fear about almost anyone we don’t know – related to potential infections? These are everyday opposite examples of solidarity. They bring back memories of the very early days of HIV when no one knew anything about the virus and for some time everybody was suspicious about everybody else. Whom you did not know was considered a dangerous threat. The covid-19 pandemic spreads much faster and it seems clear that it can affect everybody almost equally. To this end, a human thread (not threat) may run across most of the Corona debate.

Read more on values and D&I

Humanity or Hostility?

As heads of government, managers and zoo workers have been infected – across all possible borders – the virus seems to be democratic, if you like. Statistically, though, it appears to have a bias against older people. On the other hand, it does not (cor)relate to any ethnicity nor nationality. For that very reason, the various forms of nationalism and racism that break out in different parts of the world are unbelievable and absurd. They can be, however, understood from a basic human instinct perspective – return to your tribe (if you have one).

Rationally seen, it is clear that we must try to contain an outbreak in a city or region. What we see, though, is a reflex to close national borders more readily than to block off a territory within a country. The most recent statement of the President of the German region of North Rhine-Westphalia, Armin Laschet, provides a positive example when he stood against an initiative to close the Dutch-German border saying that people were living across that border and that health management also took place across that border. In most places, however, European mind-sets are much less mature than National(istic) ones.

This applies to the discussion of ‘bringing home’ citizens from a given country. In these cases, the risk of potentially importing infections seem to be underemphasised while they are overstated in relation to foreign travellers or migrants. These micro-inequities are quite prevalent in the current communication and rare get questioned.

Harsh forms of covid-19 related racism exist as well. In Europe, where the extreme right tried to use the pandemic against refugees, this attempt was mostly dismissed. In the U.S., racism against people of ‘Asian appearance’ has been reported in various parts of society across the country. In other countries, nationalism occurs related to supplies – anything from masks to respirators – that are requested to stay in the country.

View more about D&I and nationalism here

Who needs help vs. who deserves it?

While medical care is tight in some hot spots, the question about Public aids are more widely and vividly discussed. Some argue that large corporations require attention for their systemic relevance. Others want to focus on micro-enterprises as they are both numerous and a source of societal and economic agility. The cultural sector, however, which has been as severely slashed as tourism or restaurants, does not seem to have the same lobby – and that sector does not have the same chance for recovery by itself as most industries.

More biases and blind spots are embedded in the public discussion of covid-19 related challenges. Families and their children as well as older people receive the largest attention, and there are many good reasons for this. It is remarkable though how the discussions extents from there to either domestic violence (that affects women by medial default) or to the homeless. Given the large amounts of singles living particularly in large cities, it is amazing that the isolation discussion almost never looks at the particular challenges this brings for people who already live alone. Some of those without direct responsibilities are now supporting others who have to cope with the complexities of work and care.

Read more about biases and how they work


Transformation or Trauma?

Flexible work from home, with optical fibre or additional megabytes, at a bureau or kitchen table, with cats or children running around. Suddenly, work organisations realise how much people can get done remotely – when simply there is no alternative. This is often praised as a breakthrough at least for the ‘home office’ model, but doubts should be added to the considerations.

Previous studies found that people working from home reach higher levels of productivity. The main explanations being the absence of ‘disturbance’ by office chitchat as well as lower stress levels due to saving commuting time. Both develop a flipside in the current situation when home office is the only work reality: Employees can be too focused on their work, at times back-to-back in video calls, that the healthy disturbances at offices are missing. In addition, the former benefit of being able to manage private issues on the side currently turns into stress, when private logistics become an additional must.

For some people the forced change can cause a type of trauma: When you never believed in flexible working and at the same time saw your mission in working while travelling. Now you are stuck at home, trying to fill the time saved with requests and controls of peers and team members in order to re-create an image of importance. There are more people than we think who cannot wait for this exceptional period to end and go back to ‘normal’ the next day.

Read more about flexible working as a corporate cultural issue



Regardless of the struggles or issues people may have during these weeks, most should be able to realise the great achievements of post-war societies and value the co-ordinating value of modern democracies.

  • First and probably foremost, the incredible treasure of liberty and freedom – as citizens of non-autocratic states
  • Secondly the freedom of mobility or travelling, specifically within the European Union and above all within the Schengen area.

These values became just too obvious when they were stripped – to varying degrees in different countries or locations.

  • The value of personal interaction – both at work and in private
  • The complementary power of virtual technology – equally at work and to maintain private contacts

The combination of experiences will hopefully lead to a more conscious approach to both quality personal contact and intelligently applied virtual tools.

Another overarching learning from the Corona crises is not new – yet it has a specific relevance from a D&I perspective: Any external threat activates not only deeper instinct but also inner values. It hence shows us the ‘real face’ of an individual, a community or a government. And unlike what we would like to hope, the change impact of a crises on profound convictions is very limited. Populist leaders, for example, will not adapt their thinking even in the face of thousands of dead citizens. D&I, hence, has to continue to focus on ongoing learning, nudging and development – and not hope or plan for the big disruptive event that will make a system take a turn.

Read more about managing complexity and change