By Chuck Chapman, Content Strategy Coordinator
To say this last 12 months has been a struggle would be one of the bigger understatements ever. This pandemic has quite possibly been the greatest challenge our world will ever face in our lifetimes. The good news is that all indications point toward lower case numbers (and with that, fewer hospitalizations and fatalities). Within a month or so, expectations are that we can begin to return to “normal.”
That shouldn’t be our goal, though. For if we simply aim to go back to the way things were, we will lose out on some extremely valuable and hard-learned lessons we’ve experienced this year. If we can hold onto those lessons, we can create some significant positive progress out of this dreadful disease that has caused so much suffering and sadness.
What we’ve learned certainly can be applied to the way we “do work,” but these lessons can be transformative beyond the office.
Remote work works
I won’t talk too much about this one since we have a whole site full of articles that Wayne, Kevin and others have been writing about now for years. Suffice it to say, they’ve been vindicated. We now know that companies can do amazing things with remote work forces. The genie is out of the bottle and won’t be going back in.
Beyond making remote work part of the new normal, we should also remember this timeless lesson: They way we do things now isn’t necessarily optimal and it won’t be the way we always do it.
There’s more to life than work
This pandemic created a dual threat. Not only were we facing a severe public health crisis, but the fallout and restrictions that came with being locked down had a major impact on employment. Those in the service industries were especially hard hit.
And while many are still looking for full employment, those trends look encouraging also. What we’ve learned is that unlike our health and that of our loved ones, jobs can be replaced and so can income. And for those who continued to be employed, but worked from home, you no doubt quickly discovered the importance of setting clear boundaries between family and work once your kitchen table and office break room became the same place.
Before the pandemic, overwork and burnout were epidemics that plagued just about every industry. Let’s hope that we’ve learned something about the place that work has in our lives. It’s important, to be sure. It provides us both means and meaning, but it will always be runner-up to family and loved ones.
We’re dependent on each other
A lot of attention was paid, and rightfully so, to “front-line” workers who helped us survive (often literally) the pandemic. They worked long hours and took on great personal risk to care for others. We saw this mostly with doctors, nurses and medical personnel, but it wasn’t limited to them. Cashiers, delivery drivers and countless others worked tirelessly to prevent everything from grinding to a halt and provide us some connection to “normal.”
Not everything about this pandemic revealed something pretty about the way we work with each other. People were scared, nerves were frazzled and tempers sometimes flared, but that was the exception to the rule. Communities largely worked together, adapted to changing requirements and expectations and went out of their way to help each other.
The lesson here we need to remember is everyone matters. Before the pandemic, it was easy to dismiss the delivery driver as someone of “lesser importance” because of their place toward the bottom of the org chart. But when the chips were down, it was this person who mattered most. Nurses may not have the prestige or the pay of doctors, but every day they risked their lives providing comfort and expert care to those who desperately needed it.
The pandemic exposed the folly of the hierarchical organizational structure. At various times, everyone in the organization is called upon to be the “point person.” We need to value everyone and the role they serve in making sure the organization can function at its highest level.
Be grateful for those who take risks
This is an extension of the point above. Too often those on the front lines are the ones who take the biggest risks, only to be taken for granted because their role might not be as visible. The pandemic suddenly made many of those folks very visible. What they were doing wasn’t all that different than what they did before the crisis hit; the pandemic just made the results of their work that much more critical.
The lesson the pandemic taught us is that risks are taken every day on every level in almost every industry. Yes, people are getting paid, and often that’s their motivation for what they do. That doesn’t lessen the impact their service has on the rest of us. Without their willingness to risk, we would be without so much.
A united effort matters
Whether it was “flattening the curve” early on or developing a vaccine, we’ve seen the value of people working together for a common goal. We haven’t been perfect during this stressful time. Our fractures have been just as evident.
It’s that contrast, however, that provides the lesson. When we’ve worked together, we’ve seen amazing progress that has literally saved lives. When we haven’t, we’ve suffered tremendous costs.
We’ve had some hard-learned lessons over the last year. They’ve come at quite a price. Let’s take these lessons to heart so that we can be better teammates and better people, creating Remarkable companies and communities.