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Why we’re not fighting COVID with disposables


As we plan a phased reopening of Groundwork’s physical space, I can assure you that a few items are not on my shopping list: disposables such as plastic utensils and single-serve creamer.

I’ve noticed a trend in the coworking industry to replace coffee mugs and real utensils with plastic and paper in their post-COVID operations manuals. And while I understand the sentiment, I’d like to explore an alternative.

The idea behind such disposable items is simple– it is the EASIEST way to prevent cross-contamination. We coworking spaces currently face a giant headwind, and the popular strategy is to remove as many barriers as possible for a safe return to the office.– IE, how can we make our systems foolproof?

But what if we framed things differently?

COVID and Climate Change

If COVID has accomplished anything, I hope it will be the stark realization that we humans are just as fragile and susceptible to disaster as trees, birds, and insects. Even those of us living in advanced nations have not escaped COVID’s path.

Interestingly, many of us have turned to those very trees, birds, and insects for comfort during these trying times. Whole families are flocking to the great outdoors to spend quality time together, gardening is experiencing a surge in popularity, and some of us are actually hearing the call of spring birds for the first time in years.

The cover of this week’s Economist proclaims: Seize the moment: The chance to flatten the climate curve. The issue’s leader states:

Following the pandemic is like watching the climate crisis with your finger jammed on the fast-forward button. Neither the virus nor greenhouse gases care much for borders, making both scourges global.

Yes, the COVID-19 pandemic is finally giving us humans the opportunity to experience what other species have been suffering for decades.

So why, at a time when we finally see and experience ourselves as part of the natural world, must we regress to the indiscriminate use of plastics and disposables? Why must we rush to quickly separate and protect ourselves from that which is “natural?”

A different look at safety

What if coworking post-COVID required a more thoughtful approach to how we interact with not only each other, but with our larger community of living things?

What if– rather than focusing on an “easy” return to the office, we asked more of our members? What if we doubled down on reinforcing our values and requiring active participation to create a safe environment? What if safety wasn’t a top-down operation but something that depends on each one of us?

On a practical note– could members bring their own bamboo utensils and reusable coffee mugs? Perhaps members could practice cleaning their hands before and after using the creamer, or bring their own if that feels more comfortable?

Of course I realize there are situations and industries in which the use of disposables is currently necessary. But coworking is not one of them.

Returning to work with care

Two of our core values at Groundwork are particularly useful at this time:

  • We care about each other.
  • We maintain a healthy work enviromnent.

These values are not in place for the staff to carry out. They are in place for everyone. And if we’ve become slack with our values-based culture, this is our once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hit the reset button and dig in.

Shaping the future

We are moving slowly and methodically towards reopening Groundwork, and like many people, I’m living with a great sense of the unknown. Coworking as we knew it will change, and the best we can do right now is listen to each other, go slow, and remain open-minded.

I’ll leave you with a quote from David Abram, in a recent op-ed for Emergence Magazine entitled “In the Ground of Our Unknowing:”

Much that influences the future shape of our societies will ride on how we emerge from this crisis—assuming we do emerge—how we transition out of the strangely suspended dreamscape in which we suddenly find ourselves adrift….

The future will be sculpted, that is, by the elemental friendships and alliances that we choose to sustain us, by our full-bodied capacity for earthly compassion and dark wonder, by our ability to listen, attentive and at ease, within the forest of our unknowing.

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