Two jobs ago, in our monthly learning sessions for HR practitioners, I used to talk about how the leaps in technological advancements have disrupted many industries, and why we must seek to constantly future-proof our careers and businesses. This same job brought me to several conferences where industry thought-leaders preached to their very impressionable audiences about embracing change and integrating innovations in the workplace. Having worked for an HR technology company at the height of budding startups in the Philippines, I listened to many say that digitalization is the biggest disruptor for most conventional and long-established businesses in the country. 

As I write this article, I find myself restlessly sitting at home, closely following the news as the world around me combats a common enemy — COVID-19 — a new strain of coronavirus that, as of this writing, has infected 194,000 worldwide, leaving close to 7,900 deceased. Everywhere, from the Asia-Pacific all the way to the Americas, stock markets are down, travel is banned, classes are suspended, establishments are closed, groceries are empty, and people are forced to work from home (if they are fortunate to have that privilege). Globally, social distancing is being practiced, and just like pre-school, the importance of proper hand washing is being instilled. While governments scramble to control this pandemic and the turmoil that follows it, hospitals are filled to the brim, personal protective equipment (PPE) especially masks have run out, frontliners are overworked, and the number of cases continue to rise.

This, I believe, is the biggest disruptor. 

Over the last decade, we had the SARS, MERS, and H1N1 outbreaks, but having been an aloof kid then, it never occurred to me just how badly a contagion really is. Trying to educate myself on this new virus, I came across global health expert Alanna Shaikh’s TEDxSMU’s talk aptly named “Coronavirus is our future.” She expounded on what the virus is, its global impact, and shared some practical preventive measures. Out of all her discussion points, what struck me the most was this:

“This is not the last major outbreak we’re ever going to see. There’s going to be more outbreaks, and there’s going to be more epidemics. That’s not a maybe; that’s a given. And it’s a result of the way that we, as human beings, are interacting with our planet. Human choices are driving us into a position where we’re going to see more outbreaks.”

Shaikh, 2020

She then supports this by explaining that global warming has made the planet more vulnerable to viruses and bacteria, and that ceaseless deforestation, animal poaching, and industrialization opens a Pandora’s Box of new diseases unknown to science.

As I processed this information more and more, it bothered me that no one was prepared for this, no one is prepared for this, and most importantly, how can we prepare for the next one? 

While I don’t have all the right answers to this pressing matter, I think the COVID-19 outbreak is:

1. A reminder that we all carry the social responsibility to take care of the only home we have. This is not newfound wisdom and yet we constantly need to be reminded of this. It is truly tragic to have to learn this the hard way every single time, if not through pandemics like this, through severe droughts, raging floods, or even devastating typhoons. Though these may seem out of our hands, we must focus on the bright side, and on the things that are in our control. Small acts over time can lead to big changes so conserve water, opt for more sustainable alternatives as much as you can, clean as you go, join clean-up drives, plant a tree. On a personal level, you can do much! 

Just like the saying a house is not a home, our natural resources are not the only component that make up our home; it’s the people too. We are accountable for each other, and must take care of one another. For instance, social distancing, staying at home, observing good personal hygiene, donating, praying are all exercises of care. In times like these, we can only rely on each other for strength and resilience. It is truly comforting to see that while the news can be disheartening, a lot of positivity is being passed along too. 

2. A call to the government and the private sector to evaluate and rethink standards, protocols, and contingency plans. From hereon, what other measures can be imposed in times of local, national and global emergencies? Are we equipped for these and how do we ready ourselves for the next ones? What policies need reconsideration? As the way we do things are constantly evolving, are we keeping track and adapting? Now, more than ever, is the time to ponder on these. 

3. An invitation to act now. In times of crisis, today might have already been too late. As Shaikh mentioned, this is not the last outbreak humanity will have to fight; many more will come. COVID-19 is not just a virus, but also a stepping stone to more proactive measures. It represents the uncertainties of the future that we have to prepare for today. Our immediate task not just as nations, not just at work, but in our homes too, is to learn as much as we can from right now, apply those learnings, and turn them into concrete action plans. A lot can be done, and has yet to be done. Like many things, always easier said than done but we have to rise up to the challenge. We can do better, we must do better, and we will. 

A great deal of insights that can still be drawn as the next days unfold. For now, offer a prayer, donate if you can, wash your hands, and clean your phones. Stay at home, stay healthy, and stay positive!