Here are some personal musings on the past year and how its lasting lessons may in fact make us all stronger at work and in the most important venue of all, our lives. After all, as Einstein once said, “Failure and deprivation are the best educators and purifiers.”
Although COVID-19 is far from over and social unrest over the presidential election has spilled into 2021 and shaken our democracy, the light at the end of the tunnel seems near. So, as we cautiously step away from the edge of the abyss, what have we learned from the chaos, deprivation, and losses of the past year? Conversely, what things have we discovered—perhaps to our surprise—that hindered us in the past and we can leave behind?
Screeching to a Halt
As 2020 began, we were of course quite unaware of the approaching storm. Not yet familiar with the term “social distancing,” I celebrated my 60th birthday in November 2019 in that most “social” of cities, Las Vegas, Nevada. In a vain attempt to reclaim my lost youth, I resolved to run the Rock-N-Roll Half Marathon with thousands of others in Sin City. I ran with abandon (sort of, for a 60-year-old) down the brightly lit Vegas Strip and celebrated the mass of humanity that was the city.
Unfortunately, my 61st year didn’t go exactly according to plan. By mid-March, our law firm and employer clients were in the full throes of coping with COVID-19, and my entire work vocabulary had changed. I can now tell you everything you need to know about “hand hygiene,” “N95 masks,” or “virtual meetings.”
The abrupt transition will be forever seared into our collective psyches. Honestly, how many of us now cringe when watching a pre-COVID-19 movie in which barefaced people actually shake hands, linger in crowds, or (insert audible gasp here) hug?
Yet, from the unfamiliar territory, we’ve made discoveries that, if carried forward, might gird us for tough stretches or help us to savor the good times to come. You may have your own list of lessons learned, but here is mine.
Shaping Up for Better Times
Don’t swim upstream. Not surprisingly, many of us found the events of March and April 2020 to be simply overwhelming. How could something we couldn’t see have such a profound impact on our lives, families, and workplaces?
Those who fared well, however, were people who declined to continue to swim upstream in the misplaced hope we could go forward without any change. Events soon made it evident that moving forward without change simply wasn’t possible.
Thus, my first lesson is to prepare for, accept, and ultimately embrace change. It’s the one constant in life, pandemic or not. Although the changes brought about by COVID-19 were abrupt, many were inevitable and will ultimately be beneficial to the workplace, such as improved technology and mobility for workers.
Life is a team sport. Softball coach Sue Enquist is credited with saying, “Life is a team sport. It’s not about you.” The global pandemic has been the ultimate example of the interconnectedness of not only Americans but also our world community.
Workplaces function in the same way. As COVID-19 disrupted the sometimes dull Monday-through-Friday routine, workers had to learn to connect in new and sometimes technologically difficult ways. Things not only couldn’t be done the same old way, but they also couldn’t be performed without the whole team’s cooperation.
Just as the medical pandemic required a team response, workplaces found team members were called to work together in new and creative ways. Perhaps more than ever, the importance of a collaborative spirit is a lasting lesson for 2021 and beyond.
Communicating involves more than just talking. As virtual meetings quickly became commonplace, people soon realized the importance of listening during the conversations. Even more so than in familiar in-person meetings, we learned it’s virtually impossible for more than one person to talk at a time and meaningfully communicate on a video conference call.
Going forward, we should benefit from having practiced the lost art of patience and enhanced our listening skills so we could really communicate with coworkers and others.
Cherish your village. It takes a village to keep a business going, metaphorically at least. From COVID-19, we learned the importance of recognizing those who play key but often overlooked roles in your village: the receptionist who deftly pivoted to taking calls for five offices from one phone at home, or the factory worker who changed schedules overnight to accommodate social distancing. The list goes on.
Recognize and cherish the key folks in your business. They are the reasons for your success.
Life goes on. Gregory Peck, who played Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, is credited with saying, “Tough times don’t last; tough people do.” As we deal with and overcome the very real hardships of COVID-19, economic distress, and political unrest, most businesses and workers will survive and thrive in better days.
It’s the circle of life. I was reminded of it when my 87-year-old mother died suddenly on August 7. Three weeks later, grief turned to joy when a new granddaughter was born on September 1.
So it goes in our homes, workplaces, churches, and schools. Life will proceed. It won’t be the same. But if we pause, listen, and embrace the change and, yes, the opportunity posed by COVID-19, perhaps our world will be a bit better place.