• Lisa Walden

What If 2020 Is An Opportunity?

Seriously. What if 2020, with all its madness and badness is actually an invitation to do better, and be better?

Hear me out.

This year ripped many of us out of our comfort zones, throwing us straight into the deep end of the discomfort pool. I’ve been struggling to stay afloat, and rumor has it I’m not the only one.

Change has become our new constant. We’re constantly adapting to an infinitely refreshed stream of breaking news and information. We’re also trying to find our footing as norm after norm is upended. Everything from our traditional ways of greeting one another (elbow bumps are the new handshake), to how we send our kids to school (Zoom classroom), to how we connect with friends (Houseparty app for the win) has been rocked by the ground-shaking, world-altering events of 2020.

All the disruptions to “life as usual” have been tough. Equally challenging have been the paradoxical truths that we, certainly I, have had to reckon with:

  • I’ve never been so distanced from people, and yet I’ve never connected this much with friends and family, including some I haven’t spoken to in years.

  • I’ve hit what has felt like rock bottom in myriad ways, and yet… I’ve had moments of crystalline clarity, calm, and perspective.

  • I’ve despaired at my loss of control, and made peace with the fact that that sense of control was illusory to begin with.

  • I feel grief for the world we’ve left behind, and look forward to stepping into a better one in the future.

That last piece… that’s where I personally, and we, as a company, have pinned our hopes. As we think about creating workplaces that don’t suck, this year has cracked open an incredibly rare door of opportunity, a portal into a new world of our choosing.

While navigating change is always difficult, I keep coming back to this wise thing a friend of mine once said: “I believe in the human capacity to adapt to bold change.” Now is the time for big moves, not for moving the needle. Now is the time to think workplace revolution, not evolution.

We can weather this together. And not only weather, but create meaningful, positive change that will set us up for a better future. As organizations consider what the revolution means for them, we hope that they consider the following:

Normalize prioritizing mental health

There’s still this expectation that when you’re “in professional mode,” you’re supposed to be an emotionless productivity machine. “Leave your feelings at the door” is an old-school adage that’s been passed down to generations of workers. But how, pray tell, does one do that in the midst of a pandemic, political uprisings, and a steadily approaching recession? Answer: One does not. And honestly, one never should. A human without emotions is a robot. We are not robots. We are humans. The pandemic has shone a bright light on this strange expectation for emotion-free workers, and why it’s a.) unrealistic, and b.) actively harmful to the employee (and the organization by proxy). Moving forward, let’s recognize that feelings are not an “f” word at work, and that prioritizing employee mental health should be a baseline, not a benefit.

Ditch the productivity propaganda

“Busy is a badge of honor” is so played out. But it’s a mindset that’s as American as apple pie. As kids we soak up this messaging, and by the time we’re adults, we’re used to measuring our worth based on our output. I’ve heard people talk with pride about how they’re always available, always reachable, always on. These people, though, are very often the ones that eventually crash as they reach burnout-level exhaustion. The pandemic has provided stark perspective, revealed through the harsh light of illness, death, job loss, and social upheaval. Many are reflecting on how they’ve been living their lives and asking, “is this what I want for my future?” And for many, the answer is no. Work is not all of you. It is one part of you. Productivity propaganda wants you to think otherwise. Let’s ditch that way of thinking and embrace a more holistic way of living AND working.

Embrace anti-racism efforts

Although the realization has come much later than it should have, many of us are finally seeing that this workplace D&I thing that we’ve been doing is woefully insufficient in our work toward justice and equity for all. Diversity is good, but if you’re creating a more diverse workforce without actively implementing anti-racist policies, then what are you even doing? (Hint: creating an environment rife with micro-aggressions and barrier after barrier for BIPOC advancement in the workforce.) Inclusion is great in theory, but inclusion into what? A workplace system built by and for white men. Which means that inclusion starts to look more like assimilation, and that’s not a good or valid strategy for trying to build a better workplace. Let’s ditch the old D&I methods, listen to what needs to change and then act on it, and enthusiastically embrace anti-racist education, policies, and practices.

Consider compassion & empathy must-have leadership skills

Through formal and informal polls, quantitative and qualitative research, we’ve observed that people are asking for compassionate leaders. Empathy and compassion have risen to the top as *the* must-have qualities for those in leadership positions, more valued than a strong strategic vision, creativity, or inspirational messaging. Some might see this simply as a sign of the times, “of course people want compassionate leadership mid-pandemic… come 2021 we’ll see that shift.” In our opinion? This is a shift that’s here to stay. While in the past qualities like empathy, kindness, and compassion have been dismissed as soft, nice-to-have-but-not-essential skills (or even deemed to be weaknesses!), as our modern lives grow ever-more complicated, the ability to extend grace and understanding will be critical to effective leadership. This is something we’ll be tracking closely and promoting loudly. It’s one of the most powerful changes 2020 has ushered in.