Lessons from 2020

Lola Oguntokun
5 min readJan 17, 2021
[image: iStock]

Let’s set the scene, shall we? March 2020, the world seemed to be crumbling. Companies were immediately reacting to the news of Covid-19 and the lockdowns by cutting workforce hours and numbers, putting employees on furlough and later making some redundant, some companies closed down completely. Job offers were put on hold or withdrawn, and unemployment had suddenly hit an unprecedented high. For those who managed to keep their jobs, the work experience intensified due to pressures of increased workload or to perform as we did before, and not knowing what the future held. All this was happening as we tried to adapt to the new matrix of home becoming the workplace. Some have experienced these drastic changes living alone. Others have been lucky enough to live with others or loved ones — but now you’re in each other’s faces all the time — with nowhere to go and limited activities to meet your individual needs. Let’s not forget those with children, who suddenly had the charge of juggling childcare and homeschooling, for some, while holding full-time jobs. These variations of life we’ve all experienced are just the tip of the iceberg.

Don’t get me wrong, there have been some great benefits to spending more time at home:

  • Increased flexibility between work and personal lives
  • Increased quality time with loved ones
  • Saving money that would have otherwise been spent commuting or on extortionately priced coffees and lunches, or after work in a restaurant or pub (although John Lewis, UberEats and Deliveroo seem to be getting the best of me and my finances at the moment)
  • More time and space to consider what is important, and future plans and goals

Though many of us initially enjoyed the first few days, weeks or even months of this experience, eventually, you find yourself overwhelmed by the changes brought on by the pandemic, and lack of physical and emotional outlets we once relied on.

2020 was stressful and intense, physically and emotionally. One or two colleagues witnessed me crumble, and I thank them for being understanding and supportive when I needed it the most.

With all these experiences, I have learnt some of my biggest lessons. 2021 seems to be kicking off similarly, so I thought it may be useful to share (and remind myself of) these lessons.

You are not alone

Everyone is impacted by this pandemic, one way or another. No one is exempt. Bear this in mind when interacting with others. Don’t be afraid to talk about what is happening, and how your are personally impacted. This opens the door for others to also speak out. We can’t fix each other’s problems but we can at least be a listening ear and use this as a way to relate and support each other.

Carve out time for yourself

Burnout is real, especially now. You cannot fill another’s cup if your own is empty. Take time to be “selfish” and fill your cup. The best way to accomplish this is through a routine that ensures you have regular breaks, eat and drink well, exercise, and create boundaries. There are some great tips in a PsychologyToday article I recently came across, Refueling Your Engine: Strategies to Reduce Stress and Avoid Burnout. Though the article is geared towards women, the content is useful for everyone.

Be strict with your calendar

Don’t be afraid to say no or push back and ask the purpose of a meeting, the reason it is scheduled for more than 30 minutes, ask for an agenda, etc. I tend to block out regular “No Meeting” slots in my calendar. Though I’m not always able to keep them available, they do give me some room to breathe and be productive. It can be a little scary when you first say no or challenge, but most people are flexible and understanding. This also sets expectations around what a productive meeting is.

Be honest with yourself

It is very easy to be concerned about others you lead or work with. You don’t want to let people down. However, it is important to check-in with yourself and ask yourself how the workload feels. Are you finding you’re taking on tasks that should be owned by others? Are you not delegating effectively — because you believe it’s easier and quicker to do things yourself? What are your biggest stresses? What do you need to let go of or handover to someone else so you can better focus on your priorities? Do you need a break? Ok, maybe you can’t travel, but you can still take time off work.

Be honest with your team

I let my team know when I am struggling. I want the best for each and every member of my team, so when I am not on point for any reason, I feel it is important to let them know, so they do not assume they are at fault. It is important they are also comfortable letting me know when they are struggling, and proactively encourage this, but I have found the best way to do this is lead by example. I am not just their manager, I am also a human being, and I care… and in turn I find my team cares. This is why I’m constantly getting told off when I don’t take appropriate breaks. 😄

You can’t be everything to everyone

This is just impossible… and trust me I have tried. You can genuinely make yourself ill trying. The truth is, everyone’s needs are so individual, you simply cannot meet all or even most them. Decide what your core principles and priorities are, and use these to develop your objectives, your own way of doing things and to create boundaries. Boundaries are necessary and healthy.

These are unprecedented times, we’re all learning how to adapt

It is important to remember, we have not lived in times like this before. None of us really know how to swim in these waters. All we can do is try to do our best with the tools we have, one day at a time.

Ok, now I’ve got to try to follow my own lessons.

Wishing you all a great week. Stay safe, and keep going. We can do this. One day at a time.



Lola Oguntokun

I help build, shape and champion innovative companies and culture.