Einstein once said, “Failure and deprivation are the best educators and purifiers.”  As we close the book on 2020 and look forward to finally . . . finally . . . making it to 2021, the moment seems right to pause.  Although Covid is far from over and social unrest over the election has shaken our democracy, the light at the end of the tunnel seems near.  As we cautiously step away from the edge of the abyss, what of the lessons we have learned through the chaos, deprivation, and loss of 2020?  What have we learned from our failures that might improve our workplaces in 2020? Conversely, what things have we discovered – perhaps to our surprise – that we did in the past that now hinder us and we can leave behind?

The following represents the author’s personal musings on 2020 and how its lasting lessons may, in fact, make us all stronger in our workplaces and in life . . . that most important of venues.

Foreword – As 2020 approached, we celebrated . . . unaware of the storm approaching.  I celebrated my 60th birthday in November 2019, unfamiliar with the term “social distancing” in that most “social” of cities, Las Vegas. 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 Las Vegas.  My vocabulary was not yet dominated by terms like “social distancing,” “hand hygiene,” “N95 masks,” or “virtual meeting.”  My 61st year, however, did not exactly go 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 changed.

As we all settle into 2021, no doubt new concepts are forever seared on our collective psyches.  Things we simply could not have envisioned in January 2020.  Honestly, how many of us cringe when watching a “pre-Covid” movie in which bare-faced people actually shake hands, linger in crowds, or (audible gasp) hug?  Yet, from this unfamiliar territory, what lessons have we learned that, if carried forward, might gird us for tough times or help us to savor the good times to come?  Everyone has their own personal list of lessons, no doubt.  Here are a few of mine.

Lessons for a Post-Covid World

  1. Don’t swim upstream – Many of us found, not surprisingly, the events of March and April of 2020 to be simply overwhelming. How could something we could not see have such a profound impact on our lives, families, and workplaces?  Those who fared well, however, were those who declined to continue to swim upstream in the wan hope that we could go forward without any change.  Events soon made it evident that moving forward without change was simply not possible. Thus, my first lesson of a Post-Covid world is to prepare for, accept, and ultimately embrace change.  Change is the one constant in life, Covid pandemic or not.  Although the changes of Covid were abrupt, many were inevitable and will ultimately be beneficial to the workplace such as improved technology and mobility for workers.  Plan ahead in 2021 and embrace change!
  2. Life is a team sport – Softball Coach Sue Enquist is credited as saying “Life is a team sport. It’s not about you.”  The Covid-19 global pandemic has been the ultimate example of the interconnectedness of not only Americans, but our global community. Workplaces work 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 could not be done the same old way, they could not be done without the cooperation of the whole team.  Much as the medical pandemic required a team response, workplaces found that members of the team were called to work together in new and creative ways.  Perhaps more than ever, the importance of a collaborative spirit is a lasting lesson of Covid-19 for 2021 and beyond.
  3. Communicating is about more than talking – As many workers found that they were displaced from their workplaces unexpectedly in favor of virtual meetings, the importance of listening in communication was never more apparent. Even more than in familiar “in-person” meetings, we learned that it is virtually impossible for more than one person to talk and meaningful communicate on a videoconference.  This required practicing the lost art of patience and enhanced listening skills to really communicate with co-workers and others.
  4. 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, the factory worker who changed schedules overnight to accommodate social distancing, the list goes on.  Recognize and cherish those folks.  They are the key to your business success.
  5. Life goes on – Greg Peck, Atticus Finch of “To Kill a Mockingbird” fame is credited as saying “Tough times don’t last, tough people do.”  In the midst of the very real hardships of Covid-19, political unrest, and economic distress, most businesses and workers will survive and thrive in better days.  It is the circle of life.  I was reminded of this 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 go on.  It will not be the same.  But, if we pause and listen, embrace the change and, yes, the opportunity, posed by Covid-19, perhaps it will be a bit better.