5 Lessons Learned from the COVID Pandemic

SJ de Lagarde
6 min readFeb 9, 2021

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photo credit: Edwin Hooper

As a corporate communications advisor, I was thrown in at the deep end as the global pandemic took hold in the first half of 2020. Aside from realising that homeschooling is a drag, that my feline co-worker does not much else apart from sleeping 22 hours a day and my husband co-worker has an annoyingly loud telephone voice, I learned a few useful things from the global pandemic, I’d wish I’d known before being thrust into a crisis.

1. Allocate your time more wisely.

Saving time and reallocating it more wisely became a great way to become more efficient and carve out more time to spend with family or doing pleasurable activities, such as cooking, running, writing, or painting. Not having to commute to the office and back gave me an additional two hours a day that I was able to reinvest somewhere else. I started making better use of my time. I realized that only very few meetings need to be longer than 30minutes, and if planned well, with an agenda and clear actions for all participants, they were just as efficient as longer meetings used to be. I also reviewed which meetings I needed to be part of. If I had nothing to add to the agenda and didn’t need to gather information, I would either decline or delegate the participation to someone in my team who would be better suited.

2. Don’t be afraid to adopt new technology.

Bar a few early adopter enthusiasts, mainly the IT folks in a company; most don’t appreciate changing the tools they use on a day-to-day basis. Many even describe themselves as technophobes. This shouldn’t be the case. That attitude changed entirely at the start of the pandemic and found more and more enthusiasm from various senior leadership team members. Today, not a week goes by without a senior leader posting a comment on our new intranet’s social site, issuing a new self-generated video, or publishing a podcast episode. New technology is worth close consideration, and our minds need to be open to accept progress and change. Yes, it’s hard to learn a new skill or a new way of working with a new tool; however, this is where progress is ultimately made.

I grew up in France, and I recall using an electronic device called the Minitel. It was a French invention built in 1980 that was widely seen as the World Wide Web’s predecessor. A videotex online service accessible through telephone lines, and was the world’s most successful online service at the time. From its early days, you could make online purchases, make train reservations, check stock prices, search the telephone directory, have a mailbox and chat in a similar way to what is now made possible by the worldwide web. However, it took until 2012 for France Telecom to retire the system in favor of the internet’s broad usage. I remember visiting a friend in Oslo back in 1997. I went for a tour of his university campus and was impressed by their study facilities: not only had every student access to a computer, but each of them also had their email addresses and unlimited access to the internet. A concept my university in France, needed a couple more years to implement. There had been a national reticence to adopt new technology, and every effort was made to cling to the old device before the technology gap with other countries became too wide.

3. Adapt to the new world.

If a company doesn’t adapt to changing circumstances, it will spell its own demise. On the flip side, if a business takes a change in its stride and adapts quicker than its competitor, it will take the lead. This is not just valid for companies but individuals as well.

‘It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most adaptable to change,’ Charles Darwin.

The more rapid the pace of change, the more impactful the consequences of stubbornly sticking to old ways of doing things. My most hated sentence is ‘but we have always done it this way,’ if it worked yesterday, there is reason to believe it will work today. But having done it like that for years doesn’t mean it is still valid and right.

‘All is flux, nothing stays still — there is nothing permanent except change,’ Heraclitus.

The global pandemic has been, in many ways, an accelerator of change and an opportunity to modernize and reinvent the way things are done. Adapting may be difficult, but it is not impossible. Keep nimble in your approach, question every action you take, and wonder whether there is a way to do the tasks better, faster, and at a lower cost.

4. Don’t be afraid to change your habits.

Like it or not, we are all hardwired to create routines for our day to day activities. We love nothing more than to create shortcuts and habits. It allows us not to worry about the smaller details, and it frees our minds on more significant issues. Whether the change involves habits, exercise, diets, or dependencies, changing behavior is one of the hardest things any of us will ever try to do. Change stresses us. Our survival instinct is activated when we find ourselves in an unfamiliar situation, and our brains generate all possible outcomes and consequences of the decision we need to take — as micro as they might be. Some sources suggest that an average person makes an astonishing 35,000 choices per day, each being evaluated for a positive, neutral, or negative outcome.

But it is not impossible to activate change for the long-term. First off, your motivation should come from a place of positiveness. Counter-intuitively, negative emotions such as shame, guilt, and fear are not effective catalysts for change. They might be the emotions that trigger the want for change, but they are not useful in making us stick to the new resolutions. Positive and self-edifying reasons are what you need to change a habit.

Further, do not attempt to change too much too quickly. Behavior change is a big thing, no matter the behavior, and it is rarely possible to take all of it on at once. We have to start somewhere and with measurable actions. Big and vague has to give way to small and specific — and realistic. Set yourself goals and objectives and reward yourself for sticking to them.

5. Don’t forget to practice self-care.

The pandemic forced most employees to work from home and, by doing so, blurred the lines between two worlds that usually have a commute time in between to separate them from each other. There has been much talk about mental well-being and the emotional consequences of working from home. Some of us are lucky enough to work from home in positive environments and have a partner, children, or pets. Some of us are lucky enough to have enough space to retreat and construct our corner.

For those who live alone, live in small flats, or have flatmates, lockdowns can be very tough on the overall well-being. That combined with continuous news coverage on the adverse developments of the situation, one can easily fall into the downward spiral trap. Looking after yourself will help reduce the risk of burnout or depression. Steps could include taking regular breaks from work, going for walks, or doing a sporting activity like running or yoga, eating well, and staying hydrated. Rewarding yourself with something you appreciate, a snack, or an episode of a series you enjoy. Stay in touch with your family and friends, albeit virtually. And most importantly, stay engaged with yourself, set yourself a project, a goal, an objective. Be it mastering a new skill, or completing a new project, having something to build towards in the long-term will give hope and reassurance that there is something more to the day-to-day slug.

Lastly, if you feel your mood drops consistently over a long time, consider seeking professional help. These days the mental health stigma has been much reduced, and thanks to awareness-raising campaigns, most understand that our mental health is just as important as our physical health. A psychologist or a behavioral therapist can provide professional guidance on what steps can be taken to improve your mental health.

[excerpt from ‘Cracking the Code: a practical guide to better communication’ co-authored by SJ de Lagarde and Gabriela Glette, publication upcoming February 2021]

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SJ de Lagarde

SJ de Lagarde is an author and an international communications expert