Online Entrepreneurs, Coronavirus Is Our Moment (But Not Why You Think)

I’m not a doctor, but I do have my WebMD…

…which requires me to consume every piece of coronavirus information available at 3 AM (and then again at 7 AM when my husband wakes up).

Like many people around the world, I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to figure out what the hell to do as more and more news about this virus pours in.

I’m washing my hands (and then repeatedly slapping them away from my own face…which is awkward).

I’m disinfecting surfaces.

Any time I see another human being, I’m running full speed in the opposite direction.

I’m doing my part, right?

But experts are telling us that, while we all hope that after a few weeks of coping with extremely dry knuckles we’ll be back to business as usual, we must be prepared for more drastic changes to our daily lives. Schools closing. Businesses and public spaces shut down. Hospitals at capacity.

And so here I am again at 3 AM reading about what life might look like in a few weeks and writing this to you.

Because, while online entrepreneurs like me joke that, “Hey! Not showering or leaving my house for a month is just another day at the office,” this punchline is actually a superpower that the world needs right now.

Online entrepreneurs have spent years perfecting how to inspire, educate, and mobilize large groups of people remotely.

We understand how to build movements using just our keyboards.

We know how to forge strong bonds and get our emotional needs met by people who are miles away from us.

We have adapted new forms of self-care to help us cope with spending significant amounts of time alone or isolated in one space.

This means, hand washing is only the beginning of how we can help our communities — both locally and globally — in the face of this potentially devastating pandemic.

In their article for The Atlantic, “What Could Happen if the Coronavirus Closed Schools for Days, Weeks, or Even Months,” Ashley Fetters and Timothy McLaughlin write, “Distance teaching greatly limits a teacher’s toolbox. Lesson plans drawn up for the classroom, which may include partner work or hands-on projects, do not necessarily translate well to online teaching.”

They describe how in Hong Kong in 2003, schools closed for six weeks during the SARS outbreak and teachers struggled to keep students engaged.

The fear is that US teachers are ill-prepared to abruptly modify their lesson plans (let alone create new ones) to teach everything remotely. Because, even should the content be there, teachers will face new challenges in ensuring each student is learning and thriving. Add to that the emotional and psychological effects of isolation and we’ve got a problem that today’s teachers were not trained to solve.

Enter the online entrepreneur.

We’ve got teachers in our midst like Marie Forleo and Seth Godin, who’ve cracked the code to helping thousands of people feel excited to learn again, all without ever setting foot in their “classroom.” What insights and support might we be able to lend educators who are adjusting to a new way of interacting with their students?

“Homework” will have a whole new meaning for the millions of people who could be forced to work from home for extended periods of time in the coming weeks and months. But this is “easier said than done,” as Wayne Rash, consumer tech expert tells Forbes. “Not every company has the resources, the training or even the bandwidth to support an en masse move to remote work. In addition, for many companies a move to working at home requires a significant shift in their corporate culture, something that may be even harder to accomplish than any physical requirements.”

Oh hey! I know who these companies could consult with — the scrappy to 7-figure startup CEOs who have built dynamic, collaborative teams entirely on Slack. Online entrepreneurs know that company culture is about more than gathering around a water cooler: we’ve already done the gymnastics to figure out what works and what doesn’t when it comes to remote team-building.

How ironic that so many of us fled the corporate world for more freedom and flexibility? Now, the corporate world is forced to be more flexible — and it really needs our help.

And if stopping this virus requires more of us to stay at home temporarily to slow the curve and give our hospitals room to breathe, online entrepreneurs can lead the charge! So many working people throughout the world don’t have the choice or simply can’t afford to self-quarantine. But we do have that choice and we can afford to stay home, if that’s what it takes.

No, I won’t be out there saving lives with my WebMD. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have something meaningful to contribute in the face of this new reality…beyond washing my hands.

This is our moment, online entrepreneurs. All those years of proudly rocking biz mullets (blazer on the top, pajama bottoms on the bottom), cycling through one Zoom call after another, and building partnerships with folks we’ve never met have prepared us for this.

Let’s make Mom and Dad PROUD we quit our jobs to do “that Internet thing.”

Rachael Kay Albers

Rachael Kay Albers is a creative director, business comedian, and brand strategist gone wild. She writes and performs about branding, pop culture, tech, and identity. When she’s not muckraking about marketing, Rachael runs RKA ink, a reinvention studio and branding agency for businesses that burn the rulebook. She's also on Instagram a lot.