Coronavirus (COVID-19)

3 COVID-19 Lessons to Help Us Prepare for a Better 2021

From the rapid shutdown of the workplace, to the gradual return to the office, to the day-by-day challenges of coping with stress and dealing with guidance updates, COVID-19 has certainly kept me on my toes. Here are some reflections on when the virus became reality, where it has taken us this past year, and how to cope with it in the future.


Rapid, Overwhelming Change

Within a matter of days in early spring, COVID-19 forced our law firm to change its operating procedures completely. To prevent the virus from spreading, we first implemented strict policies for office hygiene and cleanliness but very shortly thereafter sent all employees home to work remotely and locked our doors to the public. At that point, I put a makeshift desk in my attic and tried my hardest to fit in work between taking care of my infant.

The amount of changes and challenges that came within the first month was overwhelming. The issues were nonstop and, just like the coronavirus, novel:

  • Dealing with employers’ wage and hour issues because so many staffers are working from home;
  • Adjusting to the brand-new paid leave provisions in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA); and
  • Providing advice to employers on difficult layoff decisions.

In “normal” periods, the issues would have been intriguing. In COVID-19 times, however, they were physically and emotionally draining given the speed at which they were coming, the impact they had, and how uncertain everything seemed to be.

Returning to the Workplace and Adjusting

The COVID-19 pandemic’s initial shock eventually gave way to federal and state guidance on how to bring employees back to the office safely. In stark contrast to the rapid shutdown, the return to the office has been gradual. As employees returned, it was noticeable how they took solace in being at work and seeing a familiar place and familiar people who were there before the world began revolving around the virus.

But, COVID-19 was clearly still a reality, so our office needed to adjust. Together, we adapted to the “new normal” of wearing masks, limiting in-person meetings, and practicing social distancing.

On a day-by-day basis, we continue to adjust. The changes may not be as rapid as the first months of COVID-19, but they are still happening on a frequent basis in light of new developments in the law or science.

Looking to the Future

As we close out 2020 and move into 2021, here are three important things to remember:

  1. Focus on matters within your control. A lot of COVID-19’s aspects are uncontrollable. You can easily lose yourself in a black hole of despair, worry, stress, and anxiety by focusing on situations beyond your control. Try instead to focus on what you can control (e.g., personal safety, personal health, and opportunities to your office, the community, and others).
  2. Be informed and flexible. Keeping a pulse on the latest COVID-19 guidance and being able to adjust as needed are necessary skills. The guidance can be overwhelming, but take matters one day at a time. Staying focused and informed will get us through the pandemic.
  3. Be kind to yourself. COVID-19 has added enough stressors in people’s lives. Acting unkind to yourself during these difficult times serves no purpose but to pile more anxiety on yourself.


As we look back on 2020, we see how quickly our lives changed and how slowly we adapted. Looking ahead to 2021, we should continue to stay focused, informed, flexible, and kind to ourselves in order to get through the pandemic.

Vanessa L. Lystad is an attorney with the Vogel Law Firm in Fargo, North Dakota. You can reach her at

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