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Blog · 06 Jan 2021

Reflections on 2020 as we move towards a virtual first new year

Lessons learnt in 2020 and thoughts for 2021.

Chief commercial officer, managing director, technology, life sciences and business services, and president, Americas

As we move from 2020 into 2021, I’ve been reflecting on the events of the last 12 months. There’s been so much to take in, to deal with and to learn from.

Some of the deeper themes for me are these:

  • From emergency reaction to sustainable action. 2020 was like a war-time situation. Countries, communities, businesses and individuals had to react to crisis after crisis, doing our best to protect people, economies, businesses, schools, families and well-being. We still are. What we thought may be a short-term disruption has now become long-term. The vaccines should hopefully bring us back to a more controlled situation, but we have to keep coping, adapting and learning to live with the impact of the virus. This means we need to stop just thinking in emergency mode and instead start reviewing the decisions that were made in haste. There’s so much information flying around from so many different sources. It’s vital we make sure any further decisions are based on reliable sources, grounded in fact and science, suitable for the long-term, well thought out and sustainable. We need to work together to beat the virus, and until then, but in the meantime, keep working as a team – as countries, communities, organisations, families and individuals - collaborating and being patient.
  • Understanding what’s vital to keep societies going. We’ve seen a seismic shift in what’s important to focus on during a global pandemic. It’s not the first one that hits the earth, but nonetheless, we weren’t prepared. History shows us that even devastating pandemics haven’t radically changed the organisation of our societies, but this one has. Hospital and caring staff, public transport drivers, supermarket workers, bin collectors and agri-food workers have been become our superheroes and protectors since coronavirus hit. In many countries, we’ve recognised and applauded our caring staff, and it was an amazing way to say thank you and to unify us amongst the initial wave of panic. Closer to home for me, there’s also been another band of people I want to recognise - engineers, call centre agents, helpdesk staff, coders, tech, IT and security professionals. They’ve played a crucial part in keeping businesses and economies afloat – all around the globe. These people have helped deliver the world’s largest working from home experiment. They’ve helped us stay connected, collaborating and productive. They’ve also helped keep us safe. Projects that would’ve usually taken years were turned around in weeks and months. I hope the future will see a positive shift in terms of meaningful recognition for the key worker roles that have become more valued today, that these career paths will be put on a bit more of a pedestal in the future, knowing their importance and the difference they’ve made over the last year… and no doubt will do so again.
  • The future is virtual first. If there’s one thing we can be certain of, there’s going to be more uncertainty – both in the short-term and medium-term, but also potentially in the long-term. But regardless of this, there are certain things we must get on with; important things that need dealing with irrespective of what’s going on with coronavirus. That’s where technology can be a saviour. Virtual is going to be the way forward and it will dominate more and more as we go along, so the sooner we embrace it, the better. With any future task, the question should be, do I need to be there in person to do this, or can I do it virtually? There’s so much we can now do from the comfort of our own homes – order food, entertainment on tap, socialisation with video calls and online pub quizzes, working from home, exercise, learning, doctor and carer appointments, etc. And we’ve seen typically non-digital organisations, such as insurance companies and stockbrokers, complete their digital transformation journeys in less than 12 months, when their original plans were going to take years. Imagine going through the last 12 months without network connectivity… Imagine how many more cyber scams would have impacted us without cybersecurity… Technology is making life possible and easier – especially in the current climate – and those who are learning to cope, adapt and learn will hopefully thrive by embracing it.
  • Don’t forget what we’ve learnt. In an unexpected way, this has been one of the most unifying experiences I’ve personally been through. Looking at how my children and mother have reacted to the pandemic, it’s obvious that our respective ages have impacted how we’ve adapted. Each generation has had its own unique experiences with dealing with this, figuring out how to cope, adapt and live. And being a global pandemic, there’s also been different cultural and country differences in how the impact has been dealt with. But, across the board, it’s forced us to find new ways of living, connecting and staying in touch now face-to-face contact has been limited. It’s created opportunities to be more efficient, more creative, achieve better work life balance, take pleasure in the small blessings, etc. How do we hold onto that going forward? Also, the last year has seen us overloaded with news, expert opinions, disinformation, political communications, etc. These have added to the stress, the pressure and the divides. How will we fact-check the news going forward? How will we make sure we draw our own, fact-based conclusions? What I’ve learnt is that we should always consider honesty and search for truth as a pre-requisite for forming an opinion - whatever that opinion may be. And don’t put off doing things. We’ve learned so much from organisations transforming themselves in 2020 and achieving change they didn’t think was possible. Thankfully, challenges like the coronavirus pandemic don’t happen often, but history has shown that it’s unlikely to be a one-off, so we need to learn from this, not forget, be better prepared next time and move forward. Whatever challenge we face next, we humans have shown time and time again that we can adapt, evolve, innovate and come back stronger and better than before. And this will be no exception.

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