by Valérie Carayol
Université Bordeaux Montaigne, France

The health warning of Coronavirus and its many consequences affect us all in a brutal way, in our lifestyles and working relationships. We had to deal with the cancellation of colleagues’ visits, the reprogramming or setting up of seminars, meetings, expert missions, the fear of our international students not being able to go home— and we must now face the closure of all schools and universities in France.

Everywhere and in a very differentiated way from one country to another, we are witnessing the implementation of crisis communication by public institutions and work organizations, which some in our scientific community will, of course, be able to dissect at leisure.

In a context of exacerbated globalization and deinstitutionalization, we see strong expectations arise towards national public institutions and in particular health institutions, which depend on infrastructure and public policies. If the systemic effects of the crisis are displayed on the international stock market indices, citizens’ eyes turn to the states. In search of security, citizens seem to have renewed expectations of their states, expectations of their hypothetical borders against the virus, bringing to light renewed populist temptations and new forms of discrimination against people.

Crisis communication takes on the appearance of war communication, prevention and survival are becoming collective challenges in front of our eyes.

While this health crisis is, for some, both frightening and unprecedented in its magnitude and its possible systemic effects on all economic and social systems, for others it is an important opportunity. It could be the trigger and timely impetus for accelerated dematerialization of labor relations, medical relations, education, which would allow us to fulfill our ecological commitments for a more preserved planet.

The whole panoply of “remote” uses of technologies is, in fact, mobilized to meet the needs of daily work: telemedicine, teleconferences, webinars, distance education. This boost in the use of communication technologies to avoid displacement and promiscuity will have certain consequences. The alternatives are shrinking and the use of ICT is now becoming a must, with consequences for work communications that we only see today, despite the abundance of research on this subject. This crisis becomes an accelerator of transformations, to be documented and studied.

New forms of sociality are also being created before our very eyes as a result of health prevention policies: to stand at a distance, not to kiss, not to shake hands, so many new social codes to be appropriated that remind us that our ways of doing “society”, especially at work, are a matter of communication know-how and of civility which is the common ground of our exchanges, today re-questioned.

The conference we are organizing in Bordeaux in May on the transformation of civility and incivility in the workplace under the grip of digital technology, may not be held in person, but in the form of a webinar. There is no doubt that we will already be able to comment on the first moments of this health crisis, which affects us all, researchers and communication professionals, a crisis for which we must all be given priority to caring for each other.