COVID-19 is a Good Teacher, if You’re Willing to Learn

Five months ago, if you would have told me that we’d be looking at a fall with no college football, virtual education, and an entirely remote workforce, I’d have thought you were crazy. But that’s our new, strange reality.

Since moving my company to a remote work setting back in March, we’ve made a number of moves to help our employees stay together, apart. From “Cook Me Breakfast” morning video conference calls to employee-crafted cocktail hour to “Mornings with Mark,” we’re getting creative with technology to keep productive, positive and forward-focused.

In the latter, I offer employees an opportunity to connect with me about anything they wish. It’s all been encouraging. Each time we make a connection provides a ray of hope that we are working our way, however slowly, toward a brighter tomorrow.

While challenging, the COVID-19 crisis has provided opportunities for growth and learning. In particular, I think we’ve learned three valuable lessons as an organization that may help you in managing yours.

3 Lessons COVID-19 Has Taught Us

1. Permanent Remote Work Isn’t for Everyone

Everyone and every position is not made for a remote work environment. I had inklings that this would be the case before the coronavirus pandemic, but COVID-19 confirmed it. Something is missed when the water cooler becomes your kitchen faucet.

As convenient as it can be to work from home, being around the people you work with has tangible and intangible benefits.

Video conferencing is a wonderful technology that has provided a way for us to stay connected, but it’s not the same as working in an office in close proximity with others. Some business conversations and decisions are conducted more efficiently when you can tap someone on the shoulder or stand up at your desk as opposed to sending an email or a message on Slack.

Hiring, onboarding and training are all different in a remote environment. Discerning whether or not a new employee will be a good fit for your workplace culture is more challenging when you can’t meet them in person.

Onboarding feels more personal and efficient when you can walk a new hire around to all the people they will be interacting with in their new job.

How do you shadow someone for a day when you’re all working from home?

Figuring out how to deliver training and assess its value remotely is also different. It’s shown me the need for a formal work from home policy that allows for a hybrid environment for those who want it, a remote one for those who thrive in it, and an in-person situation for positions and people who need it.

2. I don’t know when we’re coming back.

While some companies like Google and Facebook have announced they won’t be bringing employees back to the office until 2021, we can’t be so certain. The truth is, we don’t have the information we need to make that decision. Our situation is too dynamic.

When employees don’t know what school will look like for their kids, or how often they’ll actually be at school vs. learning at home; when they still have older family members to care for; and when people are still nervous about coming back to the office, it’s not the time to reopen.

The truth is we never closed.

Most of our employees are engaged and relatively efficient where they are, which creates an opportunity to take our time, and gain all the feedback, data and perspective we need to make the right decision for our company.

3. Run everything by the customer.

I have always been a big believer in asking customers for feedback around new products, services and operations. It’s important to think of employees as customers too and elicit their feedback on decisions you’re pondering.

Every other week we ask employees what their experience is with communication, work relationships, productivity, focus, equipment and systems and more.

We run ideas by them and use their feedback to inform decisions that will impact their daily lives and those of our customers. This kind of environment breeds trust, which is critical at all times, but particularly in a remote environment.

Decisions take more time to make now. Everything requires patience. Peoples’ need for context and compassion is higher. Flexibility has never been more important.

But all of those traits are positive ones. In a real way, COVID-19 has taught us to be patient in the face of frustration, compassionate in the face of discouragement, and tenacious in the face of adversity.

We are learning together that we have what it takes to survive disaster and emerge stronger for it.

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