The best way to learn is by doing.
And since March 11, 2020, when a pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization, we’ve all certainly learned a lot by doing things we never thought we’d do. Over the past 13-plus months, I’ve done everything from lining up to buy toilet paper to doing yoga in my living room to Zooming morning, noon and night.
Early on in the coronavirus pandemic, I interviewed a spokesperson from Ottawa’s Shopify Inc. who used Zoom as a verb and I had no idea what she was talking about. Ah, those were the days! Unfortunately, I’m very familiar with the video-conferencing tool Zoom and its now instantly recognizable Brady Bunch-style interface.
I’m far from the only one now intimately familiar with Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Skype et al. Our feature story explores how pension committee members quickly adapted to holding virtual meetings and the lessons they’ve learned along the way.
The best tip in the story that applies well beyond the pension industry is to always test your hardware and software in advance of any virtual meeting so they run smoothly and on time. I’ve yet to fully implement that lesson (sorry, colleagues and sources), but it’s an important tip to apply as respecting people’s time is, I believe, very key these days as many of us struggle to find balance while working from home.
And part of the struggle for many employers over the past year (and counting) has been ensuring employees have timely and safe access to health professionals, for everything from coronavirus pre-screenings to mental-health help to routine care. Our Cover Story dives deep into how employers, and the companies they partner with, quickly stepped up amid the coronavirus crisis to provide a bevy of virtual options so employees could address health issues from the safety of their couches/offices at home.
While the private sector has shifted into high gear with virtual offerings, unsurprisingly the public health-care sector has been slower to hop on the virtual health-care train.
In the Before Times, a.k.a. 2019, widespread use of virtual apps for health care would have sounded as unlikely as having to line up for toilet paper. But, now it seems impossibly retrograde to have to take time off work to schlep to a doctor’s office every time one needs medical advice. The pandemic hasn’t been all bad; it’s brought about some good changes.
As our Cover Story outlines, both private and public health-care providers were forced to become more nimble and offer more virtual alternatives since last spring. Sometimes large systems, like people, only learn better ways to do things when they’re forced to do things differently.
And as Matthew McCreary with Morneau Shepell Ltd.’s new Lifeworks Telemedicine program says in the Cover Story, private-sector innovation can be helpful as the provinces and territories develop their own tools and expand public coverage: “It’s the idea that a rising tide lifts all boats. If we can do well, invest in innovation and figure out the next best thing to help people, ultimately it’s a matter of time before that serves the public system.” In other words, it’s learning by seeing others doing.
Institutional investors are also applying learnings from the first year of the pandemic to the second, as illustrated in our story by associate editor Blake Wolfe.
Looking at housing prices across Canada on Zillow Inc. or the historic highs hit on the Toronto Stock Exchange might give one the impression the economy went unscathed by this once-in-a-century public health crisis, as any good professor would urge their students — look closer. The global economy contracted by 4.4 per cent in 2020, the worst decline since the Great Depression, according to the International Monetary Fund. That’s a dark stat, but institutional investors have found some bright spots.
The IMF also noted China was the only major economy to report growth last year, while the U.S. economy shrank by 4.3 per cent. And, so, investors are looking to the East for new opportunities as they (along with the rest of us) wait for the globe to reach herd immunity. Whether there’ll be an economic boom, à la the Roaring Twenties following the 1918-19 flu pandemic and end of the First World War, is yet to be seen, but the experts Wolfe interviewed seem cautiously optimistic about the recovery and future investment opportunities in the East.
As for me, I’m writing this Editorial more than one month into the second year of the pandemic and I feel cautious optimism about what we’ve all learned from year one. As many of the stories in our April 2021 print magazine issue illustrate everyone, from employers to employees to institutional investors to pension plan professionals, learned they could be much more flexible than they thought. Just like all of Benefits Canada’s readers, I’ve learned the hard way that I have the ability to stretch further and longer than I ever thought I was capable of, whether it’s adjusting to doing downward dog in my living room or learning what Zoom is for work or what time to go to the store to avoid having to line up for groceries (thankfully the toilet-paper lines have stopped).
We’ve all learned by doing and now I’m somewhat hopeful we’ll all apply what we’ve learned to our professional, and personal, post-pandemic lives. One thing I’m going to unlearn how to do the minute this pandemic is over, though? How to Zoom.
Melissa Dunne is the interim editor of Benefits Canada.