The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly challenged a lot of our previously held thoughts and practices, presenting some completely new realities that will affect how we live, work and relate with each other for a very long time to come. However, as much as the disruption has caused a lot of negative impacts, there are many positives we can take from the situation as well. We can use challenging times to come up with new ways of doing things, shift our focus to prioritizing the things that matter the most and to rediscovering our shared humanity.
A few days back I was tasked to lead one of the weekly meetings with colleagues at the World Scout Bureau Africa Support Centre. Held twice a week, on Monday and Friday, we use these virtual gatherings to check on each other, give and receive quick work-related updates and also share ideas, practices and lessons on how we can collectively navigate through the stressful COVID-19 pandemic period.
I put to my colleagues this question: “What lessons have you learnt from the COVID-19 period that will affect how you live, work and relate with people in the future.?” The answers were connected as they were diverse. Here is a summary of what they had to say together with a couple of additional thoughts from me.
Facing and Overcoming Challenges: The pandemic has reminded us that challenges are part of life and that what determines whether or not we come out of them successfully is the mindset we adopt towards the challenge. Having a positive mindset puts us halfway through the struggle. How we live our lives during ‘normal’ times creates in us a system we can rely on when uncertainties emerge. Recognizing that life must continue whether we like it or not, we need to take each day at a time, picking lessons along the way and using them to emerge out of the situation stronger. True to the adage that “whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” we can emerge through adversity as wiser and better people.
Renewing our Faith in God: Adversity also reminds us of the fragile nature of the life we live in. It reminds us of how helpless we can become if we rely only on our understanding and strength. It is at such moments that we better understand the power of the supernatural being at whose mercy we exist. It has been an opportunity to renew our faith in God and to seek his presence even more. Our faiths have been tested especially when many of us have lost loved ones but could not even travel to bury them and only had to follow proceedings via live video. We have been left questioning God why He wouldn’t at least let it happen when we could freely move around, but again we are reminded that His timing is the best. This clearly shows us that however much we may want; we can’t control everything and therefore can only trust in God that they work out well for us.
Managing Personal and Organizational Finances: Among the many hard-hitting effects of the pandemic has been the negative economic impacts. The loss of jobs, reduction of salaries and business downturn for millions of people has brought to the fore the question of financial prudence for both individuals and organizations. We have realized more than ever before the need to better manage our finances in the times of abundance, remembering to store some grain for the dry spell. If you had never taken savings and investments seriously before then the pandemic has surely been a wake-up call. We come out of this period more aware of the need to spend sparingly and only the most important things not knowing when adversity can strike.
Virtual Working is the New Norm: The future of physical working spaces has for sure been put under a great test. Before COVID-19 struck people were used to doing a lot of things face to face. We are already beginning to see many organizations scaling down on the sizes of office spaces they rent. This is bound to continue since the pandemic has brought about a lot of new possibilities. We have learnt that it’s possible to do things online, even those we had never thought we could do virtually. Despite its demanding nature and long work hours, staff can still perform while working from home. The success of productivity in virtual working, however, depends to a great extent on the office culture organizations create. Managers who are used to micromanaging their staff may find it difficult to make the transition. Those who allow their employees to self-manage build high levels of trust which become very useful when physical interaction is limited.
Adaptability to Changing Circumstances: Who would have thought back in January that we would be in the situation we are today? This clearly shows us that however much we plan our work we can’t control the circumstances that influence our working environment. Situations are bound to change any time regardless of how we hope them to be. A critical success factor when crisis sets in is the preparedness mindset, we cultivate in our work culture. Like a real Scout, are you always prepared? Do you understand that disruption is real and that when it occurs you would know exactly how to react? Adaptability to change requires that we take life one step at a time, doing all we can each day without procrastinating. This kind of agility helps us to quickly adapt to fast-changing situations thus enabling us to retain our relevance and effectiveness amidst uncertain times.
Prioritizing People’s Safety and Well-Being: For corporates, the pandemic has re-affirmed the place of people in the overall stability and survival of organizations. Leaders have had to invest more in supporting their staff to better manage work-related stress and their overall wellbeing. The need to create spaces where employees can freely air their frustrations, be listened to and supported has become even more important. Discussions have opened up opportunities for helping people to tackle mental health issues in the family and the workplaces. Employees have also prioritized their personal safety and the need to check out on each other more frequently.
Good Relationships are not Built During a Crisis: Relationships have for sure been put to the test during the pandemic, be it in families or among friends and colleagues. When things are really bad is when you can genuinely tell who you matter to depending on who cares enough to call or send you a text. In times of crisis, people become so focused on themselves and those they consider most important to them. As Frederic Kama-Kama the WOSM Regional Director for Africa says, “Good relationships are not built during a crisis.” Even at the workplace, your success in times of crisis as an organisation depends on the partnerships and collaborations built with others when things are okay. It is, therefore, worthwhile to invest in building close relationships with your family members, friends, colleagues and partners so that when you need them the most you can be sure someone will be there for you. COVID-19 has taught us to value our relationships and to reconnect with those whom we had lost touch.
Empathy and Solidarity: Not all people have been impacted in the same way and to the same extent by the pandemic. While some have been adversely affected, some have been affected minimally and can still live their lives with some level of stability. For those who are at least better off than others, this has been a time to show care, love and solidarity. We have learnt to empathize with other people’s pains and to be grateful for what we have. It has also been a time to appreciate other people’s work and how they contribute to the greater circle of life that makes us conformable. For instance, teachers’ work has been underrated for long by some, but the pandemic has reminded parents especially of the important role they play in moulding the lives and instilling discipline and responsibility in our children. “I have learnt how powerful the President is and the financial implications that come with his statements. Seeing how political decisions affect me, whether or not I support the government of the day, has awakened in me a stronger desire for greater civic participation,” says Jonathan Omondi. The kind of leadership we elect determines the kind of services we receive, particularly during emergencies.
Just like my colleagues and I, believe everyone else has picked up a couple of other lessons from these unprecedented times. Whatever it is you have learnt; it will only become beneficial if you implement it. Otherwise, it will remain just that, a lesson.
These learnings are not for adults alone. For those of us who are parents, we may want to start teaching them to our children, if we haven’t started already. They too have been affected and transmitting these lessons to them will help get them ready for any future eventualities of a similar nature. In the end, when the pandemic has long passed, we will look back and say we emerged stronger and better.
Acknowledgements: Frederic Kama-Kama, Mary Waweru, Jonathan Omondi, Mercyline Busolo, Anne Leparan, Jacques Sandrizi, Mostaff Matesanwa, Calisto Ochieng, Grace Wanja, Kelvin Mirie, Beryl Okuku, Morris Mwendwa, Caroline Rutere, Essoslim Assoti, Kennedy Kimani, Ombeline Moneger and Jane Njenga.