Looking Back on a Year of COVID-19

It’s hard to believe it’s been more than a year since the world was blindsided by a global pandemic. Millions of people are mourning losses due to COVID-19: family members, friends, and colleagues who have died; businesses and jobs that have been lost; savings accounts that have been depleted. Almost everyone has experienced some form of loss, whether it’s canceled weddings, graduations, and family events, or not being able to visit relatives—or even hug friends.

Acknowledging the worst parts of the past year is difficult and necessary. But it’s also important to see the upside of how things have changed from the way they were a year ago.

The Marvels of Video Conferencing

The past year was a turning point in the way much of the world does business. We had no choice at first—businesses were shut down, people were quarantined at home, and nobody was flying, so we needed to get more familiar with meeting online. The technology was already there; we only had to jump on and ride!

I love being able to sit down and get on a Zoom call today instead of packing a suitcase and getting on a plane. Walking downstairs is a great way to commute! I can talk with hundreds of people at once without leaving my chair. I’m available to drop in on training sessions to chat with participants whenever I’m asked. If a salesperson has a client who might want to meet me, I can sit in on a meeting with the CEO or the whole leadership team. Last week I was in a meeting with a salesperson in England and a client in Ireland. The next day I was on with one person in Italy and one in South Africa! I can spread myself around so much more efficiently now, which helps our sales team, serves our clients and our learners, and doesn’t require me to travel beyond my home office. That’s a win-win-win.

Because so many of the folks in our company work remotely now, our teams can meet more often because it’s much easier to get everyone together virtually. I’m seeing and getting to know people who work with us that I’ve never had a chance to meet—and they are getting to know each other better, too.

Of course, moderation is in order even with this miraculous technology. As the months have gone by, we’ve been hearing more about “Zoom fatigue,” where people get burned out by back-to-back video meetings. I like the solution of scheduling meetings for 45 minutes, not 60, so you aren’t logging into one meeting right after another. If you combine this approach with microbreaks, it could go a long way toward combating Zoom fatigue.

Even if it’s not yet a perfect science, video conferencing seems to be the best way to go for many organizations right now—and I’m not sure that will change anytime soon.

The Virtual One Minute Manager

The same technology that enables you to meet with clients and teams can be used to manage your direct reports. This is especially helpful if you’re not in an office and able to practice “Management By Wandering Around”—a technique originated by the Hewlett-Packard Company in the 1970s. When Spencer Johnson and I wrote The One Minute Manager®in 1981, we made the practice one of our title character’s management habits, although we never used the phrase. In our original book, the One Minute Manager “never seemed to be very far away” from his people, so he could observe their behavior face to face and catch them doing things right. In 2015 when we wrote the updated edition titled The New One Minute Manager®, we acknowledged the fact that managers were no longer always in the same place as their people. And since the advent of COVID-19, of course, remote workers are far more common.

So, what’s the virtual equivalent of Management By Wandering Around? As a manager, make sure you set One Minute Goals with your direct report so you’re both clear on expectations. Stay informed on data and performance relating to those goals, and regularly schedule virtual one-on-one meetings with them. When your direct report does something right, call the person or schedule a quick Zoom meeting to give a One Minute Praising. If you notice them moving in the wrong direction, use the same method to contact the person and help them get back on track with a One Minute Re-Direct.

The Upside of COVID-19 on Home Life

At the time I am writing this, the United States and many other countries are moving quickly toward vaccinating people as soon as possible. My wife, Margie, and I feel relieved that we have had both of our vaccinations. We are eagerly looking forward to the day when we can once again open our offices to our colleagues, have friends and family visit us at our house, and do what I miss the most—hug people. Like most others, we have had to give up some enjoyable parts of our lives to stay safe. Yet we’ve been appreciating the simple pleasures around us. Here are some examples:

Bonding with pets. Margie and I have noticed over the years that our little dog, Joy, has always seemed happiest when we’ve taken time off from traveling. She just loves it when we are home with her. You may guess that Joy has been ecstatic for more than a year now. She is also a big clown and can always cheer us up when we start feeling down. If you are a dog lover, you know how therapeutic dogs can be. Last year when people realized quarantine was going to go on for a while, there was a surge of adoptions at shelters all over the country. So many people were adopting pets that a lot of shelters ran out—I remember the news reports showing all the empty cages. It was a beautiful sight.

Watching movies. We’ve been having a lot of fun watching old movies—some favorites we had already seen several times and some new ones recommended by friends. It’s an enjoyable way to spend time together, whether the movies are good or bad.

Enjoying socially distant, outdoor gatherings. Last summer our neighborhood held a socially distant “block party.” We all brought our own chairs, food, and drinks. We wore masks, sat at least six feet apart, and had interesting conversations. Even at a distance and with masks on it was wonderful to see our neighbors and even meet a few new folks. We are looking forward to doing it again now that spring is here.

Appreciating the great outdoors.  Margie and I have been getting outdoors more often—walking with our dog, Joy, or golfing almost every week at our local Par 3 course. Anything that can get you out of the house and into the fresh air is a good thing. Going for a walk is good mental and physical therapy and it doesn’t cost a thing.

Practicing Kindness and Gratitude

The pandemic isn’t over, and we’ll all need patience until it is. One way to cope is to focus on the good that’s come out of this challenging year—not an easy task. As author and philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote: “The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings.”

Meanwhile, let’s be kind to everyone we encounter. We don’t know what they may have gone through in the past year—or what they may be going through now. Let’s keep sending out thoughts and prayers to people we love and continue reaching out to help others who have suffered great losses or illness and are still hurting. And let’s not forget to be grateful for the blessings in our lives.

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