The countdown to the new year started earlier than usual in 2020, with some employers looking forward to turning over their calendars only six months in. 

The spread of COVID-19 and its damaging effects on our physical health, mental well-being, and the world's economies meant that 2020 was a year unlike any we had ever experienced. While the fresh start of 2021 is appealing, the ongoing damage of COVID-19 means we cannot completely ignore last year's existence. 

Instead, let's look at the big lessons learned and consider how living through challenging times actually makes our future look brighter. After all, as the saying goes, you can't have flowers without the rain. 

Lesson 1: We must be ready for anything 

For employers, saying 2020 was a challenge is an understatement. It challenged our ability to manage our workforces in times of uncertainty and forced us to depend on technology to stay productive. These challenges existed amid many industries completely shutting down. 

When COVID struck, unprepared businesses were suddenly caught out. Some simply weren't ready with a technical infrastructure that allowed their employees to work remotely. Others were lacking employee trust in business leadership that the company could navigate the unfolding situation. Others lacked faith in their employees and were unsure whether they would stay productive if they weren't reporting to an office. 

While it might be easier to say in hindsight, our takeaway is that we must be ready for anything, and when we are not, we must be willing to be agile and adapt. 

Lesson 2: We can cope and grow in the face of change 

Within the darkness 2020 brought us, some bright spots were revealed. 

Businesses that were willing to be agile and adapt coped with the change. The implementation of new technologies meant some companies found more productive ways of working, even if they weren't in the office. Employees leaned into the opportunity to work remotely and proved to their employers that a flexible work-life is possible.

In general, the world realised the importance of community. Limiting physical relationships made us realise how important connection is and that we often take everyday relationships in our neighbourhoods or workplaces for granted.  

Employers supported this need for connection the best they could. Some held Zoom calls or chats focussed on catching up and not on work. Many companies learned how to support their employees' mental health and well-being during lockdowns and prolonged periods of isolation. They practiced empathy and listened. In turn, this built more trust between employees and their employers, giving way to higher job satisfaction.

Without a doubt, 2020 was a challenging year. Unfortunately, its damage isn't done. We will continue to see the effects of COVID-19 into 2021 and for the next decade. 

Rather than ignoring all that happened, as employers, let's embrace the big lessons learned and continue to do our best to stay resilient if (and when) we meet hard times again.