Some Things I’ve Learnt in 2020

When we are faced with adversity humans have an incredible ability to adapt. This is something we have all experienced this year both personally and on a global scale. As individuals we have learnt to work from home, engage in our children’s education, find creative ways to support our friends and family, celebrate important events over video calls, over come Zoom fatigue and many other things.

Reflecting on 2020, I have developed new skills and learnt many things to help me get through. I hit the learning curve at times, feeling stressed, doubting myself and at times feeling completely overwhelmed. Someone described me as being like a duck on a river, on the surface I look very calm, but below the water line my feet are working frantically to keep on course!

As a business owner, the news that New Zealand was going into Level 4 Lockdown was a real challenge. I was almost instantly hit with a wall of questions about what it all meant, without having any time to understand myself. My team were worried about their jobs and what it would mean for them and their families. I needed to make decisions quickly, often without all the information I would normally want. I was given some advice many years ago, that you should make a decision and if you were wrong, make another one to bring yourself back on track.

Lesson Number 1: Talk to your Accountant. One of the most important things you need as a company owner is a reliable cashflow plan and budget. It helps you make better decisions, decisions that affect your team and your clients.

Lesson Number 2: Talk to your Team. Let them know you have a plan and let them ask you questions. Everyone has different circumstances and sometimes just having your ear for a few minutes helps calm nerves. It also gives you, the business owner, a chance to share some of the mental load.

As a technology consultant, I was in demand. I was asked hundreds of questions as everyone tried to move rapidly to the cloud. First question, how do we get Microsoft Teams, quickly followed by how do we use this new capability? Let me tell you a secret, we were all on the learning curve together. Yes, we had rolled out Teams to client well before the lockdown but none of us had done it so quickly and at scale.  Feedback came thick and fast! Learn, adapt, do it again!

Lesson Number 3: In a crisis you do not have time for best practice. When the most important thing is to enable people to work remotely in a very short timeframe, you need to compromise. Accepting that a tidy up and provide better training later means you can get on with things. Make sure you have a plan to revisit those things later and communicate it.

Lesson Number 4: Focus on how you will use the tools, not what the tool is. Developing a way of working remotely is powerful. How do we know what needs doing? How do we allocate tasks? How do we check in on our work mates to see if they need help? How do we prevent digital isolation in the remote workplace? Getting everyone working well is the key to remote work productivity.

Lesson Number 5: You will never get everything right the first time. We are all on the learning curve together, trying our best to develop new skills and expertise while marching forward at double time! We are all making mistakes. Taking the lesson onboard and adjusting is how we improve. Learning to forgive ourselves when we misstep is even more important for our own wellbeing.

For many of us, going into Lockdown meant spending more time with our family. Many of us did not have home offices where we could lock ourselves away and work. We shared our space with children, dogs, cats, and parrots! Our partners learnt about our work habits (good and bad). We all learnt how to co-exist and thankfully most of us still manage talk to each other at the end of the day. Having empathy of others in our bubbles is important, especially when we are having a less than perfect day in the remote office.

Lesson Number 6: Remember to share the space you work in. Whether you are working from home or in an open plan office space, having a shared space means being mindful of the needs of others in the same space is important. My wife teaches pre-schoolers and had a routine where she needed to record video each morning. Planning my day so we did not clash when she needed quiet (and a camera man) reduced the stress-levels for both of us!

Lesson Number 7: Give your brain a break. One of the things I found most challenging was switching off from work. There was always something to do, a new urgent request and someone needing my time. It was relentless at times. I started putting a stake in the ground with an end of work walk around the block. I started declining meetings outside my normal work hours and asking people to schedule at times that suited me. Guess what!? Most people appreciated that I needed a break more than I did myself.

Wherever you are and what ever you are doing, taking a moment to reflect on the things you have learnt is a powerful thing. That is how we improve. Do not try to tackle everything at once, instead work on a couple of areas for improvement. Try to create lasting habits rather than doing something once. If it does not work for you the first time, give it another go.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me this year. You all deserve a break in Hawaii, which will need to be deferred for the moment. That is my final tip, make plans to do something fun when we are back to normal!

I hope 2021 brings you joy and happiness! Best wishes to you and your family.

Steve

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