Working during corona lockdown: EIT Climate-KIC Italy sets an example
18 Mar 2020
As is the case with climate change, the rapid spread of coronavirus calls upon us to shift our focus from individual health towards public health. Living through one of the harshest waves of the epidemic, EIT Climate-KIC’s Italian team shares new ways of working—and being—together as ‘social distancing’ is increasingly enshrined as a necessary measure to slow infection rates.
Rome, 10:00 a.m., Wednesday morning: The streets of the Italian capital have never been quieter. The usually hectic city is eerily empty. Today, on 18 March, the coronavirus infection has already affected over 31,500 people in Italy, taking the lives of 2,500 people.
“Scientists are telling us that the outbreak has not reached its peak, these weeks will be the most risky, and the maximum precaution is needed,” Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said in an interview.
Wherever you are in Italy, time is suspended as people find themselves confined to their homes while deserted streets, train stations, restaurants and cafes are the new normal.
But even during corona lockdown, life needs to continue for the five million Italian citizens who are working from home.
“Our team is treating this like a big strategic experiment to test new ways of working,” explained the Italian team at EIT Climate-KIC. “We have learned that for online meetings to work well they need to be designed in a different way. It’s not only about switching the video on”.
A different level of planning is required
Many countries in Europe are following the Italian example and implementing domestic travel restrictions. In France, people who are leaving their house (to buy food, walk their dog, or go to work if they still have to) will have to download a certificate from the government website stating the reason for their excursion out of the house.
To help contain the spread of the virus, EIT Climate-KIC has decided to close all its offices. The management is mindful about the difficulty of working from home for some employees—especially parents, carers and for those who don’t have the space to work in the best conditions—and efforts are made to ensure a smooth transition to virtual spaces.
“The organisation is continuously improving its digital workplace, enabling employees to work together wherever they are, and delivering a virtual meeting space that allows for interactive and engaging meetings and workshops,” said IT Director Sanne Kaasen. “Our existing digital workspace capabilities have enabled a smoother move into a fully virtual organisation, so daily work can continue from home without interruption during these early stages of coronavirus. Using these capabilities, we’re converting workshops and meetings into dynamic online spaces and events. We’re also putting time and effort into building online facilitation skills in the organisation by sharing best practices and competences.”
Many digital tools already exist to handle work in teams and with clients, but that’s not the only important aspect of this sudden and imposed transformation of our working habits. Sean Lockie, Director or Urban Transitions at EIT Climate KIC, explained the importance of planning when looking to shift more work online:
“As the dramatic development around the spread of the coronavirus puts new responsibilities and pressures on businesses, you need to have a protocol in place, and you need to make sure everyone on your team will be able to follow this protocol. We use digital tools like MIRO, which help a lot. But we also use some common sense rules like having breaks in the same way we would do when we’d meet face-to-face.”
While the IT team is planning a series of workshops to help all its international colleagues get things done, the organisation is also experimenting with new ways of supporting online social connections through virtual happy hours, online coffee breaks and lunches, and virtual game nights.
An opportunity for behaviour change and systems change
As the spread of the virus continues, causing great human suffering all over the globe, economic activity has stalled. During the current crisis, China, the world’s largest emitter of carbon and the first country to experience the epidemic, saw CO2 emissions decrease by a quarter. In Italy, air quality has improved over the past few weeks. All over the globe, conferences and business trips are cancelled, resulting in thousands of planes not taking off and experts say the global emissions could finally fall again, for the first time since the 2008-09 financial crisis. Peaking emissions in 2020 would give us a fighting chance of achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement, keeping global temperature rise well below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
But the idea that this international health crisis might be “good” for the climate is dangerous, as an economic recession could slow the transition and create social unrest. Decarbonisation, and reaching a net-zero emissions economy by 2050, require capital, and research and development investment, and therefore a stable economy. Still, for many, this crisis is a demonstration of how government policies and behavioural changes could have a real impact on the fight against the climate crisis.
“Practitioners like us, who are deeply engaged in climate and environmental issues, have been trying for years to shift behaviour, and this is a massive opportunity for us to change the norm, not temporarily but hopefully forever,” concluded the Italian team.
EIT Climate-KIC will accelerate learning about how to improve their capacity to work together online and support their community while drastically reducing carbon emissions. But more broadly, the organisation is also thinking about how to rewire business-as-usual, so that we can come out of this crisis with healthier systems that will lead the way to a prosperous, inclusive and climate resilient world.