“Whatever you thought 2020 was about, it’s not. Think again.” Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Australian Financial Review’s Business Summit, Sydney, March 10, 2020
There is little doubt that 2020 will be marked as an important year in world history. In Australia, it is a year of uncertainty, anxiety, and frustration.
We knew how to respond to the natural disasters such as fire, ice, and flood that have at times besieged our communities. Governments and institutions knew what to do, what resources were available, and the community knew the role they would play. The health, economic, and social disruption of COVID-19 was outside our shared experience.
In a recent webinar, Sally Dorsett and David Schmidtchen explored some of the challenges and opportunities in a year when uncertainty and disruption are normal. Schmidtchen explains the thinking behind the webinar.
“We felt the pandemic was different to other types of crisis. We could see there was not going to be a post-crisis moment where we could all get back to normal. The economy is being changed, the course of people’s lives is being altered, and our behaviour will need to change to live in this new set of circumstances.
“We thought the ongoing crisis of COVID-19 was highlighting the importance of trust. We have had to trust in each other, we have had to trust in governments and institutions, but also the importance of digital trust has become visible. What we trust, who we trust, and how we trust are being talked about in Australia and the rest of the world,” says Dorsett.
Synergy has recently partnered with the Australian Cyber Security Growth Network to produce Australia’s Digital Trust Report 2020. The key takeaway from the report is that a four-week disruption to Australia’s digital activity resulting from a significant cyber incident would cost the economy $30 billion (1.5% of Australia’s Gross Domestic Product) and around 163,000 jobs.
Trust in the security of Australia’s digital economy is important in ensuring the confidence of consumers and businesses to engage in the digital economy but also in attracting investment and growing jobs.
“The report shows how digitally geared and dependent Australia’s economy has become. Digital trust is the confidence we have in using all the technology and tools available to us. The recently released Cyber Security Strategy 2020 has actions that are aimed at building trust but also mitigating risk in the digital economy,” says Schmidtchen.
“In the webinar we want to get underneath the big picture to look at the changes that were taking place today and look at how we might need to do things differently. David and I don’t have all the answers, so we wanted to kick off the conversation in a way that allowed others to join in. We wanted to provide a place where people could share their experiences about what’s happening but also about what’s working and what we need to do differently,” explains Dorsett.
Dorsett says the idea of digital trust in the economy goes right through to people living their lives. “We have seen during COVID-19 the deliberate spread of misinformation that is designed to break down trust between people. We saw the same types of misinformation being used to divide the community during the bushfires. It can be difficult to sort truth from fiction,” she says.
“David and I took the view that it takes a village to beat COVID-19. What we mean is that building digital trust and changing behaviour is local, it happens in communities of people. In the webinar, we will talk about work as a community and the way we need to adapt our communications. The questions we raise have all come from people we have been talking to across government agencies.”
Dorsett says there is no doubt that all agencies have adapted quickly to the challenges of remote working but there is also a fear about quickly snapping back to old work habits. There is a need to change our mindset and that will be hard for some managers and employees where work has always been done at work.
In terms of communications during a crisis, Schmidtchen says the usual crisis communications model runs from scepticism to anxiety to adjustment to post-crisis and we tailor information to suit those stages.
“In this pandemic, we are seeing people moving back and forth between anxiety and adjustment. When people are anxious, they need information that gives a sense of security, control, and reassurance while in the adjustment phase we need to see a path forward and get a sense of hope.” says Dorsett.
“We know from our own experience, and in talking with others, the constant uncertainty is mentally exhausting. There are a lot of tired people out there. At the same time, micro hopes are being raised and dashed which leads to frustration.
A lot of the behaviour around not wearing masks and not sticking to lockdown policies is an expression of this frustration. In the workplace, leaders will be working with people who are also moving between anxiety and frustration. Leaders will need to stay alert to the mood of the workforce and adjust their messaging accordingly,” says Schmidtchen.
The pandemic is teaching us all how to cope with true uncertainty. Globally, nationally, and personally the structured patterns of all our lives have been shattered. When we are uncertain the challenge is in deciding what to do and how to do it. In 2020, uncertainty, trust, relationships, and community have become front of mind for many people.
Dorsett explains, “When we were planning the webinar, we thought about how we are learning more every day and we are learning through experience and action. The solutions sit with us all through trial and error, and through thinking and doing. As we enter perhaps another phase of COVID-19, the subject of trust and digital trust will continue to be a topic of conversation.
“It is a frustrating time and I find it easier when we put structure around it and try and to make sense of it. I hope that through the webinar we can help others to do the same. We hear people talking about recovery, which almost infers that we will need to go back to what we had or the way we were. Maybe, we need to focus more on moving forward into a very different world.” says Dorsett, reflecting on her own response to 2020.”
The Year That Everything Changed is an evergreen webinar that will be available ongoing on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 12pm, 4pm and 8pm. The content is designed to be continuously accessible and relevant, which means you can access it when it is convenient for you.
Sally and David have also provided downloadable content which is available after the webinar. They also wanted to create a place where people could learn from each other by sharing their knowledge and experience, so they have set up a LinkedIn group where people can talk to each other about the challenges and opportunities we all face in adapting to a changing world. The webinar is out now, and you can register here: https://www.everythingchanged.com.au/mandarin.
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