Solidarity in the Age of Social Distancing: Covid-19 and our Stretched Social Fabric

Listen to the full conversation and/or read our summary and commentary below.


Joe Waters CEO, Capita |
@JoeWaters_GVL | Blowing Rock, NC
Maria Romero Strategic Foresight, KnowledgeWorks | New Braunfels, TX
Ian Marcus Corbin Co-Director, Human Network Initiative, Harvard Medical School | @ianmcorbin1 | Cambridge, MA
Michael Tavani Founder + CEO, Switchyards | @tavani | Atlanta, GA

The rapid spread of coronavirus throughout the United States in March 2020 has caused an unprecedented economic crises and social fear. In this anxious, uncertain time Joe Waters at Capita hosted Solidarity in the Age of Social Distancing: Covid-19 and our Stretched Social Fabric to "reorient ourselves toward what matters most" and consider how communities might unite in new ways to reach people in need, especially those who are already experiencing isolation.

As Joe noted in Capita's recent podcast "Health As Membership", according to a recent YouGov poll, 22 percent of millennials say they have "no friends". What effect will social distancing have on a social fabric that is already stretched? Especially isolated single parents and families who are already struggling? And what can communities do?

Foundations for Flourishing Futures – the first forecast focused on the future of young children and families – provided an entry point for the conversation. One domain the forecast focuses on is stretched social fabric, or the reality that many of our society's traditional means of connecting and supporting communities are changing.

For example, Maria Romero noted that the pandemic highlights – and may accelerate – a decline in the trust of large institutions. Now, when communities need them most, governments aren't in a position to lead and mobilize citizens.

Ian Corbin added that "citizens are thinking faster and further ahead than agencies" in this crisis, which points to the reality that there is a lot of untapped
human capital in this country. In Cambridge, MA Corbin has observed 13 communities organizing via NextDoor (a neighborhood-based social media platform), to prepare for the weeks ahead in which there may not be sufficient medicine or food for families in their neighborhood.

Romero noted that leveraging these sources can be faster and more responsive, but that doesn't mean they reach the elderly or disconnected or that they are always accurate sources of information. She learned about the first case of COVID-19 in her community of New Braunfels, TX via NextDoor before it broke on the news media, but felt it was essential to confirm the information on more trusted sources.

Michael Tavani, CEO of co-work / social-club SwitchYards, consistently addressed the way the virus will change the way we think about work and workplace culture. Companies that have resisted shifting to remote work for fear of losing corporate culture will now be forced to accelerate the movement to work from home. In the process we'll have to "take a hard look at what 'the office' means" and create new cultures. "Before, work was a thing you do AND a place you go. Now, it will just be a thing you do."

"Before, work was a thing you do AND a place you go. Now, it will just be a thing you do." Michael Tavani

Tavani noted that two types of corporations will step in to fill the gap:

  1. Companies that create remote-work products (like Zoom – whose stock has increased nearly 30% in the past month – and Big Marker)
  2. Companies that never return to office work (ex. tele-medicine)

Further, companies that never return to office work will completely change hiring practices. Once we're good at working remotely, everyone will be more likely to hire remote workers from anywhere in the world and this will have positive and potentially negative consequences.

Ultimately Tavani believes that this blending of work and home change will drive efficiencies and generate an even greater demand for in-person interactions that can never be replaced.

In response to this reality, Corbin cautioned that disembodied / screen-mediated interactions are likely to reduce relationships even further toward simply task-based performance, or fulfilling a work need without any real personal consideration. But he ruminated that it may also allow more flexibility for families to live where they like.

Corbin sees this moment as potentially the beginning of a new movement around locally-sourced food, goods, and resources. What is now a catch-phrase for expensive, bespoke food and crafts, may become the new economic reality.

In general, the group struggled to identify and address concrete habits and practices that demonstrate, or lead to, greater community solidarity. There were consistent examples of neighbors offering to pick up food and medicine. Romero also suggested that simply practicing social distancing was a way to serve the larger common good, but this was a question everyone was hungry to answer.

Regarding larger policies and practices that might prepare us for the future, Romero suggested that this experience may open the door for governments to develop more small-scale, innovative approaches to meeting social needs.

Because local governments haven't been on "war footing", and don't have plans or resources in place to respond now, or prepare for the next phase, Corbin believes that the door is wide open for well-meaning citizens to take this into their own hands with government backing their efforts.

To conclude, Joe Waters offered a hopeful perspective. Perhaps this vacuum created by social distancing and overwhelmed social systems is the door for those who care about solidarity and the common good to lead a new way forward. "Perhaps this is the foundation for the relational revolution that we need and Capita has called for."

"Perhaps this is the foundation for the relational revolution that we need and Capita has called for."