Experts discuss the ways in which COVID-19 could change how we live for good.

Around half of the world’s population is on lockdown in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19, a public health emergency that has claimed thousands of lives and sparked fears of the worst global recession since the Great Depression. This has had a profound impact on the world of work, as well as our mental and physical well-being.

While nobody would choose to go through this crisis, social scientists, management professors and psychologists around the world are watching closely, keen to investigate the effects of this enforced global experiment.

Some people will suffer from post-traumatic stress, says Adam Grant, Professor of Management and Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, to to Ross Chainey, Digital Media Specialist for the World Economic Forum.

However, Grant also suggests there may also be some post-traumatic growth, in which people realize their inner strength and a deeper sense of gratitude.

Grant is an organizational psychologist, bestselling author, and host of the podcast, WorkLife.

“I study how to make work better,” he said in an interview with the World Economic Forum’s World Versus Virus podcast. “That might mean redesigning jobs to make them more meaningful and motivating, trying to build cultures of creativity and generosity in teams, or even trying to make entire organizations more productive.”

 Here are some highlights from the interview, courtesy of weforum.org:

RC: First and foremost, this is a global health and economic crisis. But, for many millions of us, we’re battling a loss of normalcy in our daily lives. How well-prepared do you think we are to deal with a situation like this? Does it play to any of our natural strengths or is it more likely to expose our weaknesses?

AG: It’s a little bit of both, like everything else. The challenging part is, as human beings, we don’t like uncertainty and unpredictability. There’s even some evidence that if you’re highly neurotic, you actually prefer experiencing pain over being in the dark about what you’re going to experience. That’s a part of the crisis that’s really a challenge.

On the flip side, we’re highly adaptable. Darwin wrote when he was building his theory of evolution that natural selection favours a sense of flexibility. It’s not always the strongest species that survives; it’s sometimes the most adaptable.

I think one of the ways we can cope with the uncertainty is: when you can’t imagine the future, you can actually rewind and think more about the past. You can recognize hardships that you’ve faced before. You can learn something from the lessons of your own resilience and then try to figure out “what did I do effectively before that might work for me today?”

I still hear a lot of people complaining about FOMO – the fear of missing out – even though there’s nothing really going on. Has COVID killed FOMO or exacerbated it?

I prefer to think about this less in terms of FOMO and more in terms of what’s often called JOMO, which is the joy of missing out. I actually made a list of all the things I’m thrilled that I don’t have to do, and that includes changing out of sweatpants [and] having to commute.

This is a practice that’s pretty useful for people. We have a lot of evidence that marking moments of joy can actually create those moments of joy because we’re more likely to notice them. We’re more likely to savour and share them. Being able to capture a few things that are really joyful about getting to stay home seems like a productive step.

We’re all separated from our teams. How can we maintain a sense of belonging while isolated at home?

I don’t know that it’s easy. In one company, they did a virtual tour of their home offices. That gave them the chance to talk about some of the mementos that they keep nearby. They were showing off pictures that their kids drew for them. And it was a great moment of personal connection in a way that never would have happened if everyone was in the office.

I’m not suggesting that’s the perfect fit for everyone, but it seemed like a small step that can make a meaningful difference in feeling like I learned something new about my colleagues, [that] I see them more as human beings as opposed to just achievement robots.

Every team has its introverts and extroverts. Do you think this crisis has levelled the playing field between them?

I wouldn’t go that far. I think the reality of the current situation is we’re still catering to extroversion. We’re now sitting on video calls all day, as opposed to saying: “You know what, maybe we should have fewer meetings”.

We’ve known for a while that that introverts’ voices tend to get overlooked in a group setting. This would be a good time to experiment with moving towards some more independent individual work, which we know is the best approach if you want to generate lots of good ideas in groups.

One of the simple practices I would recommend to make sure that introverts don’t get drowned out is to shift from brainstorming to brain-writing. So brain-writing is a process where you [ask] all the people in a team to come up with ideas independently, then submit them. Then you review them. That leverages individual strengths around coming up with original ideas and allows the group to do what it does best, which is to begin to evaluate and refine. That’s probably one of the most effective ways to make sure that introverts are heard.

Listen to the full interview with Adam Grant here.