The Pandemic’s Greatest Gifts

By on December 22, 2020
The Pandemic’s Greatest Gifts

I’m sure all of us would agree that records are meant to be broken and that it is only through the breaking of records, challenging the status quo, that continuous improvement can happen. For example:

  • It wasn’t until General Chuck Yeager flew the Bell X-1 to a speed of Mach 1.06 (700 mph) that we realized that the speed of sound could be exceeded. Prior to this flight, many believed it to be impossible to fly faster than the speed of sound. Bell Aircraft and Chuck Yeager challenged the status quo.
  • It wasn’t until Charles Dumas cleared 7 feet in the high jump that the track and field world realized that it was possible to clear this height. Shortly thereafter, 17-year-old John Thomas pushed the world mark to 7’ ¾”. Dumas and Thomas challenged the status quo.
  • It wasn’t until many work environments, ranging from hospital ERs to manufacturing plants to corporate headquarters to college campuses, were forced to confront head on the reality of the pandemic world that employers came to fully appreciate the creativity and resilience of their employees. They saw what happened when their employees were forced to challenge the status quo.
  • And, finally, it wasn’t until many of us, working in relative isolation in home offices, have had the opportunity to do very focused introspective thinking. And what has been the result of this thinking for myself, and I’m sure for many of you? I was forced to reassess my methods of training and coaching and realized that many improvements could be made in the way I do my work. I was forced to challenge the way I had been doing my work…to challenge my status quo.

By forcing us to challenge the status quo in many ways, the pandemic has brought organizations some great gifts.

  1. Resilience: Employees have discovered they have the ability to respond to challenging work environments in ways they would never have predicted. In meeting these challenges, they have come to realize that they are much more resilient than they would have previously predicted.
  2. Creativity: Employees have come to better appreciate the strength of their personal creativity in adapting to a pandemic governed environment. For example, some have had to come up with new ways of getting to work; others have had to implement new ways of meeting childcare challenges; others have had to devise new ways of caring for aging parents; and still others have had to devise new ways of doing their work.
  3. Teamwork: Employees better appreciate the power, and necessity, of teamwork. To the extent that, “I’ll do my own thing” thinking existed in the organization, it has been replaced by “I’ll do what’s good for my team” thinking.
  4. Dedication to the Mission: Employees have become more focused on the mission of the organization. Throughout human history, there have been countless examples of the ways in which external threats increase the strength of dedication to the mission of a group, be it a country or an organization.
  5. Communication with Leadership: Leaders of organizations have been in more frequent contact with employees, listening to challenges they face in responding to the pandemic and soliciting their advice on how they can more effectively help them meet these challenges.

And here’s what my experiences during this season of the pandemic have taught me about the impact it has had on individuals, people like you and me as we work out of home offices:

  1. Introspective Thinking: Relative isolation has given us opportunities to sit back and quietly think about who we are, where we are in our careers, what we do that brings us joy and what are we do that doesn’t. It’s the kind of very productive thinking that occurs best when one is alone, not encumbered by the distractions that occur in other types of work environments.
  2. Home Office: My home office worked well in the pre-pandemic world. In the pandemic world not so well. I came to realize that I had become too comfortable in my pre-pandemic office and had failed to continually challenge the way it was configured and equipped.
  3. New Modes of Communicating: As I was forced into Zoom-based training, I found I could trigger discussions but then had to step back and allow participants to drive the discussions themselves. As I observed these discussions remotely, I realized how productive they were. And I also came to appreciate the power of the facilitator as a catalyst, triggering discussions but not trying to control them.
  4. A Healthier Lifestyle: The food we eat at home is typically much healthier than the food we consume in restaurants. And the amount of food we put on our plates at home is much more conducive to good health than the over-burdened plates we get delivered to us in many restaurants. In addition, remote work gives many of us opportunities to exercise frequently. I can easily get up from my desk and take a walk in my neighborhood or go to my family room and spend some time on my exercise bike.
  5. More Conversations with Neighbors: As I walk through my neighborhood, I’ve gotten to know my neighbors in a way I didn’t in the pre-pandemic world. And I’m confident that this newly created sense of community will continue in my neighborhood in the post-pandemic world.
  6. Saving Money: The Old Fashioned I make at my home bar is not only better than what I get at most bars its also much less expensive. Going to the movies via Netflix is a lot less expensive than going to our neighborhood theater and buying $10 bags of popcorn, etc., etc. And the popcorn we make in our microwave is just as good.

Just as Chuck Yaeger’s flight in the Bell X-1 challenged the status quo regarding the speed an aircraft could attain, the pandemic has driven many innovations that challenged the status quo. And they will make great contributions to life in the post-pandemic world. Here are just some of the pandemic’s greatest gifts in addition to those I’ve just mentioned:

  • Robots that use light beams to zap hospital viruses.
  • A virus-killing mask.
  • A robot disinfecting device.
  • Telemedicine consultations to determine if a patient needs further testing.
  • The “Ask Sophia” artificial intelligence platform that allows patients to conduct a self-assessment of their risk of contracting the virus.
  • A hands-free door pull.
  • Software that tells us how busy our neighborhood supermarket is.
  • Fast track methods of bringing vaccines to market.

Great challenges have always brought out the best in human beings. The pandemic certainly has.

I’d be very interested in hearing from you about your experiences during this very challenging time. How has it impacted your organization? Your work? Just drop me a note at gfriesen@stlcc.edu. We have much to learn from each other.

About George Friesen

George Friesen serves as Business Practice Leader - Lean Manufacturing for the Workforce Solutions Group of St. Louis Community College. He has led the College's Lean business practice area since 2000. Prior to joining the College, George worked for Maritz Performance Improvement Company. Over the past 35 years, he has served a wide variety of Fortune 500 companies, specializing during the past eleven years in Lean Manufacturing, focusing especially on the 5S System, Lean leadership and thinking processes, Value Stream Mapping, and Lean team building. George is a graduate of Washington University (AB), Webster University (MA), and United States Air Force Flight Training.

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