“Why is it best to think of 2020 like a panto? Because eventually, it’s behind you” (from TV Gold’s “Christmas Cracker” joke competition)

Photo author’s own

I expected something very different from 2020.  For the first time in 7 years I’d developed a proper, grown up business strategy for my company, and I had bought a 2020 wall calendar to fill with family and work plans – both turned out to be a bit of a wasted investment.  “Hindsight is 2020” has never been so apt, and many of us are looking to 2021 with hope for a far better year.  However, if anyone says to me “everything happens for a reason” or “if it doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger”, my response would be unprintable – we cannot apply clichés to what has been a devastating time for so many people and businesses.  But despite the major challenges we’ve all faced on a personal and professional level, we can learn from 2020 and use some of those learnings to make 2021 better.  

Before Covid (BC) we were all working too hard, too fast, with stretched resources, and it wasn’t sustainable, and when everything around us changed, we were forced to re-evaluate even our most basic assumptions.  Rather than going back to normal, how things were, we can take the good bits into 2021, and create a better normal instead.  I work with many different types of teams in large and small, global and local organisations, and these are the main things I hear people saying they will keep in 2021, and what they will leave behind in 2020.

Keep the good bits of WFH (and leave presenteeism behind)

Just because people may be returning to work onsite at some point, it doesn’t mean everything has to return to exactly how it was before.  People have found many aspects of working from home positive and productive.  Consider what worked well for your team and what to keep from enforced home time, even when back in the office.  Some teams have been checking in more regularly with each other, others have been taking the chance to exercise at lunchtimes – there are good things to keep from the crisis. 

We can give ourselves permission to ditch the “old normal” ways that weren’t productive.   Whether fighting through rush hour to do fixed office hours, or travelling long distances for short meetings that could be done via Zoom, think about what doesn’t need to return to the office, and leave it behind in 2020.

Keep connecting as humans (and leave cold professionalism behind)

One of the best things that came out of 2020 was the human connection we made with each other, our neighbours, our communities and with our colleagues at work.  Seeing each other’s pets, children or kitchens on calls, and being more honest about our personal challenges allowed us to be more human, and we want that to continue.  We know that connecting better with each other alleviates stress and supports our mental health, and it’s proven that teams who trust each other more perform better- so it’s good for business too!

Going back to the office will cause concern; people will be nervous about re-entering public spaces and others will miss working from home.  Make sure to check in with your team on how they’re feeling about going back in to work – even if people have irrational fears, discuss them together to make the transition as gentle as possible.  How we support each other now, whether as colleagues, clients, customers or employees will be remembered for years to come, so let’s be human and warm– none of us want to go back to BC when we had to put on a professional mask and pretend everything was ok.

Keep valuable live time (and leave back-to-back meetings behind)

Days filled with badly run, poorly structured, back-to-back meetings has been a common complaint, made worse by the urgency of dealing with a crisis, and if we’re not careful, we risk bringing those bad habits with us into the new year.  Meetings that waste our time also waste our energy – and none of us have time or energy to waste!  To prevent this teams are resetting their meeting assumptions, for example agreeing on 30 min default meeting times rather than an hour, or keeping 1 day of the week free from meetings to do quality thinking.  People are saying no to meetings without a clear objective or reason for them to be there. 

We’ve all learned how valuable face to face time is, whether in person or remote, which is why more teams are prioritising live time for discussion, debate and decision-making.   More and more people are pre-recording debriefs and presentations to send in advance of a meeting, so that when they do meet, they are discussing the content, rather than sitting and listening (while checking emails!).  This “asynchronous” communication via podcasts, films or screen recording software like Loom saves live, face-to-face time for full interaction.

Keep innovating and experimenting (and leave resistance to change behind)

Being forced to change in challenging times has shown us that we can innovate.  Many of us have found out that we were stronger, more adaptable and more innovative than we ever thought we would be.  Having been forced to face digital transformation and innovation in the last year we have the confidence that we can change, adapt and evolve for the better. 

As the world (hopefully) comes back to a better normal in 2021, we need to guard against thinking that we’ve now made all the changes we need to.  Resist creating a new set of rigid rules before you’ve had time to try your new approaches.   Experiment with different working patterns and see what works for your people.  Leave rigid policies, resistance to change, and bureaucracy behind in the BC world.  

One thing’s for sure – societal changes, technology, and information will continue to challenge and disrupt every industry and organisation, which means we will all need to keep innovating.  Think of 2020 as the training ground – in 2021 we will have an even better opportunity to improve how we work together, offer more to our customers and in doing so create value in our businesses.

Bring on 2021, and let’s use what we’ve learned to create a better normal!

First published in the Training Journal in January 2021