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Pooling Perspective on COVID-19 (May 11, 2020)

  

By Ann Gergen, Executive Director

Last week, I shared a common sentiment I’ve heard from pools: “It’s hard to plan, because we just don’t know what to expect from the coronavirus.” 

Another related question being explored is: “When might things return to normal?” We all want to know what public entity pooling will look like after the pandemic – and it’s comforting to expect to go back to our familiar environments, interactions and processes. 

I’m not sure it’s realistic (or, frankly, wise) to expect this snapback. You could leave your pool unprepared for the future and create greater long-term discomfort by holding out for an unlikely return to past practices. Moving intentionally to engage the fundamental changes brought about by COVID-19 will be more productive and effective. 

To make sense of the transformation COVID-19 is likely to have on public entity pooling practices and relationships, I’m comparing it to the Internet revolution – condensed into three months instead of 30 years.

Before the Internet – during my own college years, in fact – we did research in the library using books as an exclusive source. Our first office jobs after college involved computers – but also carbon copy forms, fax machines and typewriters. Our first mobile phones (I think mine was a 1994 Motorola MicroTAC) most certainly did not have Google.

Imagine in 1990, as I sat using Wite-Out to correct a typing mistake, if someone handed me today’s Internet-based environment as a complete package. I’d have been overwhelmed by the breadth of change. I would have struggled to adjust my pace and stumbled over new business processes and interactions that were more effective and efficient – but entirely different than what I had learned and practiced. 

Even if someone had simply described to me the changes the Internet would bring to my home and work life – online grocery shopping, ride-sharing, cloud file storage and shared documents, videoconferencing, smart appliances, Tik-Tok, etc. – I’m not sure I would have believed the totality of how different life would be. 

Like the impact of the Internet revolution, life and business changes resulting from COVID-19 will be significant and far-reaching. As difficult as it might be to conceive of all the changes, we can’t return to the time before they occurred. However, we’ll have to adapt at a much faster pace to COVID-19 realities than to the emergence of the Internet because the changes aren’t dependent upon the pace of technological development.

Some changes will come because public entity operations will never again be the same after COVID-19 (just as after the Internet). There will be new practices for schools, community centers and correctional facilities, operational adjustments in the court systems, programs to address increased mental health stressors, changes to parks programs and wildfire suppression, adapted job training methods for new public employees, new compensation parameters for public employees injured on the job, and more.

There will also be direct shifts in pool operations after COVID-19. Just as we’ve become accustomed to the everyday professional impacts of the Internet, this crisis will force us to build relationships and transact routine business using new methods that will be sustained, not temporary. Prepare for long-term changes in your member site visits, training sessions, membership meetings, risk management events, governing board and reinsurance meetings, mediations, workforce assignments and expectations, and more.

As with the Internet, the COVID-19 changes we see will not be fleeting. That’s in part because for the generation newly or now entering the workforce (at pools and in public entities) the post-pandemic world will be their normal. For insight into the possible generational impacts of COVID-19, including early impressions of the future for local government, I suggest reading this essay by Kim Lear, AGRiP’s 2018 Generational Resident. 

In short, we can’t simply expect to undo the influence of COVID-19 and move back to a pre-pandemic way of life, just like we cannot ignore the influence the Internet has had on our world. Pre-pandemic experiences are not “normal.” They’re just “before.”

I’m working to move my own pre-pandemic expectations to the bookshelf in my office (at least metaphorically), which is filled with other old-school memorabilia like my Franklin Planner and microcassette dictation machine. These tools remain accessible if I ever need them, but more likely I will have cleared some space on my desk for whatever comes next. 

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Ann Gergen is AGRiP’s executive director and a former pool administrator. She has worked closely with and for pools, public entities, reinsurers and related service providers throughout her career.

Each week, Ann will offer insight into COVID-19 issues AGRiP members are experiencing and related trends to monitor. For more, access the full series of COVID-19 perspective posts.

Access AGRiP’s COVID-19 Resource Center for coronavirus information, links and news relevant to pools. Email us with questions or comments, or connect with us on LinkedInTwitterYouTube and Facebook.

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