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Lessons Learned During a Pandemic

By Angie Joens

Happy New Year everyone! We did it! We made it through 2020—a year filled with so many twists and turns it felt like a roller coaster ride that would not end. It was on a constant loop of hair raising speed, unexpected drops, and so much more. But it is over now and while there are so many words I could use to describe the year (excluding all the choice swear words)—the one that continues to come to mind is change.

We had so many issues, challenges, and sorrows thrown at us and our lives and livelihoods were altered. And while some may believe things changed for the worse I like to (and need to) believe that among all of this change we learned a lot. Not just about ourselves but our organizations, our work, our communities, and our world. Here are some of the lessons I have learned:

Remote Work – Works

It is an idea that we have all considered but never really tried, and last March our hand was forced. We needed to get all of our employees to a safe environment. We needed to trust them to do their best work. We needed to learn how to manage these employees. We needed to learn how to motivate them and improve our communication lines. We even have learned how to have fun together but apart. It is not ideal and some of us are very weary of this arrangement (ahem,) but we now know we can do our work successfully in a remote environment. Yay us!

Flexibility is Crucial

When we moved to a remote work environment so too did our families, roommates, pets, etc. At the beginning we expected our employees to just log in like a normal day and work until 5 p.m., but we did not factor in all the distractions. Kids needing help, three meals a day (plus snacks) at home, dogs barking at every passing squirrel—you get the picture. We learned fast that working at home caused new challenges. So we had to adapt. We had to work with our employees and supervisors to create a new work schedule that allows us to reach our goals. And guess what—it works! Once we got over our old ways of thinking we learned we can make it work for everyone.

The Show Must Go On—Virtually

We learned that our donors and prospects want to stay engaged with our organizations. They were craving the information, entertainment, and connection to something bigger than their new world and they turned to us for it. We invited them to participate virtually and they responded. We were able to expand our invitation lists to include so many more audiences and they registered. We learned that even if they cannot join us at the prescribed date and time of our event they will still access the event at a time that works for them. We learned about Zoom fatigue and that our events needed to be concise and interactive (when possible).

Our Employees Health is Critical

Never before have we been more concerned about our employee’s health. We are testing them, tracking them, and creating new rules for being together. But just a year ago employees (like me) thought nothing of going to work while sick. We just muscled through thinking the organization would fall apart without us. Yet, thanks to this pandemic new mandates are being created about sick leave and imagine what that will do for keeping cooties out of the workplace. And we cannot forget the mental health of our employees. Leaders need to have more compassion and empathy during stressful times. We need to be pay attention to our employees and have open conversations about what they need.

Ingenuity Wins

Those organizations and businesses that were able to rethink their business model or retool quickly had the best chance to not just survive —but thrive. Innovation is critical to our work every day but the pandemic illustrated just how beneficial it can be. Our ability to shift or pivot helped us succeed. Those of us willing to take risks or think out of the box made discoveries (and mistakes), but we learned there are new ways to do things if we have the courage to try.

The Power of Communication

We thought we had communication issues when we were all in the same buildings but when we moved to a remote environment we found out what was what. I joke with my friends that communicating something to my remote employees is 2.5 times harder now than it used to be. No longer can we call a quick meeting or run down the hall to get an answer. We had to find solutions for communicating with our teams. We had to create a strategy for rolling out important information and make ourselves available for questions. Now communication takes more time, energy and patience—and I, for one, will never take it for granted again.

2020 was a year—a year of change. We could have quit but we didn’t. We kept moving forward and found out that we could be successful despite all the twists and turns. We created new processes, programs and events. We relied on technology and our internet connections. We found new solutions to old problems. When the course changed – we found a different way. If we could handle all of that we can take anything 2021 throws our way—right?! Happy New Year!

What lessons did you learn in 2020? We'd love to hear them in the comments below!

At the DRG Group, we spent a lot of time in 2020 learning as we went. As the year went on we shared those lessons learned through several series of webinars. Here are a few of our most popular webinars from 2020, where we shared strategies, tips, and tactics we learned throughout the pandemic. All are available for purchase as on-demand recordings:


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