50 Workplace Lessons Learned During 2020 – According to Experts


As human beings, we learn lessons through experiences and challenges. 2020 has undoubtedly been a challenging experience for all of us. We had to contend with a worldwide pandemic and the consequent economic disaster. Here at Open Sourced Workplace, we asked thought leaders and industry experts for the lessons they learned from the past year.


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What are the lessons we learned during the past year? We learned the importance of good leadership and empathy. We also obtained predictions regarding shifts on workplace culture. 

We have all experienced difficulties this past year. What’s important is that we refuse to give up; instead, we bounce back better and stronger than ever. By learning from the past year’s series of events, we’re bound to only improve from here on out. Here are 50 workplace lessons learned in 2020:

Leadership and Empathy

“Being a leader isn’t being in charge; it’s taking charge.” We had a discussion with Cristina Herrera about leadership. Here, she emphasized that effective leadership is centered around empathy. Just like any other skill, leadership is something we can develop. But note that it’s like muscle. It has to be constantly exercised and used to be effective. You need to have a growth mindset and the understanding that everyone can learn. It just takes a little bit of effort and persistent practice. 

Although leaders must take charge, do not forget to check in on your team members as well. 2020 has taken a toll on everyone’s mental health. Uncertainties have become the norm. In keeping people motivated, it’s important to understand how they are feeling. Productivity increases when leaders can guide employees through tough situations. They must first get a pulse on how their employees feel.

With this in mind, it’s helpful to reflect on your level of empathy. Are you able to put yourself in other people’s shoes? Do you understand how making team adjustments can maximize employee potential? If you answered no to both, then this is an area you need to put more work on.

Creating a safe environment is great for the employee. Safety doesn’t simply connote being able to communicate your concerns to your superiors. It’s also about those superiors proactively addressing those concerns. Here, we can see that there’s opening up to the possibility of changes and being human-centered. Employees should have the ability to put their hands up and say they need help. And they should be given the help that they need.

More concretely, be more open towards your failings as a leader. Don’t be afraid to admit that sometimes you may not know what you are doing or that you have committed a mistake. Also, don’t hesitate to ask for help or for others’ opinions. When you make yourself vulnerable, your employees will feel more comfortable voicing out their problems as well. 

Creating more meaningful relationships will certainly help propel a company to success. With this, communication is impactful and even necessary. Here’s our article entitled: How to Mitigate Negative Communication in the WorkplaceOpens in a new tab..

And so, the following are some significant lessons we learned about leadership this year:

1. Empathy is a necessary trait to have. It helps you connect with your team.
2. Empathy from leaders is therefore significant to the success of an organization.
3. The nuances of virtual communication demand more from leaders. Therefore, leaders must be up for the challenge.
4. Connecting with people remains relevant in today’s society.
5. In a crisis, people are always nimble and quick to move into survival mode. So it’s important to identify and adapt to the situation quickly as well.
6.  People engagement and client satisfaction are leading indicators of a growing business.
7. We need to know how to organize ourselves, especially in times of uncertainty.
8. Teamwork and synergy are vital for companies to survive the pandemic.
9. Leaders must prioritize actions because they’re more important than words.
10. Be consistent in your role to build trust.
11. Leaders who deny science are a liability.
12. We need transformative leaders, especially in these changing times.

A Human-Centered Approach

Businesses often focus too much on their products and processes. In doing so, they miss out on a key component of their success––people. In our interview with Karen Gill, she says that when employees are happy, they are 13% more productive. It doesn’t even take too much to satisfy them. Celebrating their accomplishment gives meaning to their work, and small acts of kindness greatly impact their morale.

One of the significant factors of employee satisfaction is work-life balance. The idea of being human-centered may vary among different industries. For instance, human-centeredness revolves around HR having team-building programs in one company. For other companies, human-centeredness may relate to focusing on customers and their satisfaction. Meanwhile, other companies try to strike a happy balance between making both their employees and customers happy. 

You can’t go wrong with having a strong emphasis on taking care of your people. Here are the lessons we learned about the human-centered approach to work:

13. It’s important because success starts and ends with people.
14. It’s crucial to improve an employee’s quality of life.
15. Having a purpose outside ourselves, acts of kindness, and helping others spontaneously make people truly happy..
16. Trust and social cohesion are imperatives for a functioning team.
17. Giving meaning to people and celebrating their accomplishments should be a top priority.
18. Casual collisions and water-cooler conversations spur creativity and innovation.
19. Having a sense of community is essential to our lives. Facilitating this in the workplace creates a rich culture.
20. Culture is about bringing different viewpoints together.
21. Creating a healthy internal dialogue is crucial to maintaining your mental health

Our discussion with CEO Jonathon Hensley shows that being employee-centered is important. It highlights cooperation between the employee and the employer. There is a need to strike a common ground between the two parties and ensure that they genuinely listen to each other. The pandemic has brought an environment of social distrust and information discontinuity. There is now a focus on rebuilding that trust. As Jonathon says, “if it is good for the employee, it is good for the customer.”

It all ties back to intentional and streamlined communication. Through this, workers are empowered to bring their best selves to the workplace. Human-centered approach to work entails curating your processes and workflows. This provides adequate support for your employees.  As an employer, there should be psychological safety for failure. When employees are allowed to make mistakes, it encourages them to learn from their failures. They are then able to do better the next time around. 

The Future of Work

Changes came in quick succession during the pandemic. Among these changes is the evolution of the workplace. During the early part of the pandemic, many companies adopted the work-from-home set-up. Meetings and discussions were held over Zoom or other video-messaging platforms. As we moved through the crisis, we saw many people exhibit the symptoms of Zoom fatigue. They’re less able to create a healthy balance between work and life. This led to many workers feeling more burnt out.

It’s been observed that workplace trends favor integrating virtual collaboration tools and remote work practices. As a leader, do you understand how you can make your workplace more flexible? To know more, check out our article entitled: What Is Workplace Flexibility?Opens in a new tab.

Moving forward, some companies may want to bring their employees back to the office. However, conventional workplace set-ups such as office cubicles should be reconsidered. In light of social distancing measures, more space is needed to house the same number of employees. Management should think about how to integrate proper health protocols into their company policies. 

In discussion with Neil Usher about the future workplace, we consider the triple bottom line’s balance. This refers to people, profit, and the planet. Balancing the three is a primary consideration in employment practices of the long-term.

As we gradually emerge from the pandemic, expect numerous shifts in our organizations’ behavior. These shifts include a greater emphasis on sanitation, safety, and flexibility. Urgency on environmental issues will be a factor in future operations worldwide. 

With this in mind, the shift in business operations this year taught us the following lessons:

22. Everything will not return to the way it was before. It’s necessary to recognize and adjust to the changes in the market and the industry.
23. People who are unyielding to change will find it hard to adjust to the times.
24. The same is true for organizations. If organizations do not adapt quickly enough, they will be left behind.
25. Balancing people, organizations, and the planet is imperative in the future workplace.
26. Corporate and government policies are complex. Reforming company policy to suit this era is a long and tedious process. However, it’s necessary.
27. Smaller companies took the brunt of the pandemic’s economic impact. 
28. Paying attention to current events helps in creating viable plans for the future.
29. The most convenient way to measure an employee’s productivity is by measuring time spent on a task.
30. The future of work is the future of living. There is a strong possibility that people will live closer to where they work.
31. Protecting employees while simultaneously keeping the economy rolling is possible.
32. Sanitation, such as air filtration, is a priority for workplaces.
33. With interactions transitioning into the virtual world, direct and straightforward speech is a must. Doing so avoids ambiguity and confusion.
34. Resilience and perseverance are key to finding a job amidst the pandemic.
35. If you do not adapt to remote work, you’ll find it difficult to be competitive in hiring employees.

When we think of the “workplace,” we visualize tall buildings with offices or suites. But due to the speed at which changes occur, we’re transitioning how we imagine this specific workplace. Working from home is now the prevalent set-up. However, there is no assurance that this will continue. Aside from distractions at home, workers with no dedicated workspaces find it difficult to be productive. With this in mind, co-working office spaces may be an option. 

The future of work may be working from anywhereOpens in a new tab. the employee feels comfortable and productive. Learn why remote work is here to stay with 50 Reasons Why the Future of Work is RemoteOpens in a new tab..

However, note that although employees work remotely, companies should ensure that their workers’ needs are met. We can see this in our interview with Andrew Mawson about managing a virtual workplace. He shares that future work relies heavily on feedback. Companies need to make sure that social cohesion is maintained regardless of physical distance. Being able to generate trust and warmth amongst the team is key. Through these, companies can build relationships that collaborate and function effectively. 

We talked to Cristina about how to thrive in the workplace in the coming years. Here, she mentions “workplace of the futures” comes in. And Cristina does emphasize the need to integrate the human element in business operations.

An important lesson for businesses is that the interactions of people mainly fuel organizations. The human element is an essential aspect of the future workplace. In the future, we’ll have to integrate the human element with technology systematically.

Regulations are often unforgiving, especially in corporate organizations. However, there is a need to change our mentality. Now more than ever, we need to emphasize collaboration rather than competition. In the same way, organizations need to go beyond the work at hand. Instead, they need to stimulate and motivate their employees. Want to learn more about creating a fun and collaborative workplace? Check out The Secret to Building a Healthy & Happy Workplace.

Thriving Beyond 2020

During 2020, we’re all so focused on surviving that the thought of thriving seems like an oxymoron. But now we’ve more or less adjusted. And we’ve moved on to seek ways to thrive. 

The advent of new technology brings about new opportunities for people to adapt to the times. The speed at which technology and information get shared nowadays is unrivaled. People now are more equipped to handle fast-paced changes than ever before. Beyond technological advances, the pandemic taught us to pause and reexamine our priorities as well. It allowed us to shift our way of thinking. 

And so, here are lessons we learned that could help us in our future endeavors:

36. Business leaders can step up their game.
37. Societal problems are real and tangible, but it’s all about perspective.
38. We should focus on the human element in businesses.
39. Mental health is significant, so avoid prolonged isolation.
40. It is easy to fall into the trap of despair during the lockdown. And so a routine and support group is necessary.
41. We need to re-emphasize inclusivity, diversity, and community.
42. Learn to make changes slowly. 
43. The brain is wired for safety. But take that leap of faith regardless.
44. Find happiness in simple things.
45. Difficult times reveal the truth.
46. Learn to slow down.
47. Find the silver lining in difficult situations.
48. Make self-care a priority.
49. Never stop learning.
50. Do something that makes you look forward to the future.

Finally, employees must recognize their needs as an individual. Then they can branch out to the needs of the community. Organizations must also put a premium on making sure that their employees are productive and happy. Gone are the days when we tolerate problems and neglect our wellbeing. If there’s anything the pandemic taught us, we have to take care of ourselves. It’s after we have done so that we can take care of others and our responsibilities. Ultimately, this is how we can thrive beyond 2020.

Related Questions

Can the events that transpired in 2020 be considered a blessing?

Without a doubt, a lot of unfortunate events happened in 2020. However, it can be considered a blessing because it:

• It gave us an appreciation for little blessings

• Helped us prioritize the important things in our lives

• Became a catalyst for innovation

How should I perceive 2020?

2020 was undoubtedly challenging. Framing challenges in a positive light is a building block of resilience. Instilling a growth mindset is key to rise from the lows we experienced. It’s important to keep in mind that 2020 has brought many opportunities to capitalize on as well. 

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