Our top 5 takeaways from 2020 – what are yours?

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2020 has been a year of disruption like no other. The devastating bushfires that ravaged over 18 million hectares of Australia were swiftly followed by COVID-19, the worst pandemic in recent history. Tragedy and turmoil trailed in its wake. But this crisis also forced us to pivot, innovate and adopt solutions that may otherwise have taken years to achieve.   
In the world of work, the changes of 2020 have been so monumental that they’re signalling a new era of work, one where hybrid working, virtual communication and collaboration tools, and a focus on adaptability and resilience are the new ‘normal’ for most sectors and industries.
Throughout this year, it’s fair to say that there have been many lessons learnt – so much so that it’s difficult to narrow them down. However, here at Hays we’ve thought this over and selected the following as our top five takeaways for 2020.

1. Working from home has benefits beyond COVID-19

Topping our list is the enormous shift in attitudes we’ve seen this year as employers come to understand just how productive their workforces can be when working remotely. The widespread shift to a working from home model during the pandemic has encouraged many business leaders, who were previously unsure or against remote working, to design long-term flexible working strategies for their employees. 
No longer a benefit reserved for a trusted few, the result has been the rise of hybrid workplaces, where some team members are based at home while others are in the office. Such a model gives employees greater freedom to balance their personal and professional lives.
It’s also been shown to have a positive impact on productivity, with a recent survey of ours revealing that 61% of Australians believe they are most productive in a hybrid working model. Just 21% said the central office model is the most conducive to their productivity. The final 18% nominated exclusive remote working. 
As part of the move towards hybrid working, employers have given staff more autonomy in their roles and learnt to trust their employees’ ability to deliver from afar. Therefore, we shouldn’t expect employees to easily adapt, or be comfortable with, any reversal to the level of pre-crisis oversight managers had over their working day, schedule or routine. Instead, this trust needs to be retained as we move into 2021, with the understanding that it forms the foundation of a successful working relationship with staff – regardless of whether they are working in the office or from home. 
For some employers, remote working has prompted them to consider employee monitoring – but again, even here trust needs to underpin your decisions, with most employees believing monitoring is only justified if it is transparent, they are given a say on what data is collected and that data is then used to help and improve their performance rather than identify and punish their mistakes.

2. The value of compassion 

Following the mass adoption of working from home, employers quickly shifted their focus to the mental health and wellbeing of employees. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen employers use various strategies, from video conferences for regular team meetings to more informal team communication, to minimise feelings of isolation and disconnectedness. They also encouraged staff to maintain regular hours, take breaks, exercise and eat well to help preserve their wellbeing. 
With this increase in mental health and wellbeing awareness has come greater compassion in our workplaces. Many managers lead teams of people who were, and continue to be, going through difficult challenges. Consequently, they’ve developed a more empathetic approach to their management style.
For example, in 2020 some employees suddenly found themselves with additional caring duties or home-schooling responsibilities while also balancing their work demands. To effectively support and guide employees facing such tests in their lives, it was quickly recognised that compassion was a key factor.
Not only that, but the remote way in which we’ve been working this year has forced us all to adopt a new level of empathy for our colleagues and their personal circumstances – after all, we’ve been given a virtual window into their personal lives. This has led us to become even more tolerant and compassionate than before. 
This is something that, we hope, will remain with us all in the new era of work. After all, even if we are already back in the office, we certainly have a new appreciation of our colleagues and their personal situations.

3. The importance of creativity

The challenges, changes and disruption we’ve faced in 2020 forced us to think and work more creatively, including when devising solutions to everyday problems in the workplace.
Your own organisation may have been forced to shift its entire business model, for example, or explore new or alternative products and services. Or perhaps individuals in your workplace took on new tasks and responsibilities.
Whatever the exact circumstances have been for you and your organisation, it’s clear that we’ve all had to employ greater creative thinking in 2020 than we needed to in our pre-crisis lives. For many, it’s this creative process that’s helped businesses remain afloat and chart their way to recovery and back to growth. 
We’ve certainly been pushed to devise new strategies and techniques relevant to the new situations and priorities we found ourselves in this year. Moving forward, we believe that continuing to embrace our creativity will help improve problem solving, innovation, productivity and morale.

4. The power of pulling together as one collective

During 2020, we’ve been brought together in new ways. Although lockdown restrictions and safety measures such as social distancing prevented us from physically seeing each other as frequently as we once did, our eyes have been opened to how powerful our efforts are when we come together – even if we’re doing so remotely. 
In fact, a recent survey in China revealed that there’s been a shift in attitudes, “with [people having] less tolerance of individualistic behaviour and a greater tendency to recognise the contributions of others.”
Various reports have shown people coming together virtually as one, even while the coronavirus crisis kept them physically apart. During this year, we’ve realised what we can all achieve if we work together. Therefore, in 2021, we believe it is important to maintain this collective thinking as we transition to the new era of work.

5. The importance of communication from the top

Throughout this year of intense disruption, leaders stepped up and communicated more regularly, transparently and visibly than ever before. They took every opportunity to talk to staff about what was going on in the organisation, reassure them that they were watching the situation carefully and share the reasons behind decisions. Crucially, they also sought to bolster confidence that the health and safety of staff would always come first. 
Even in the virtual sense, open-door policies were adopted and leaders made themselves available to anyone who had questions. 
By communicating regularly, staff were kept in the loop and gained a clear idea of the bigger picture and the various cogs in motion to help the organisation and its people through the crisis. 
Reassuringly, leaders also took the time to really listen to what employees were saying. Then, they showed they had listened in the subsequent messages delivered. At a time of confusion and stress, this two-way communication to and from the top helped keep employees engaged and motivated. 
It also proved how important honesty and transparency are in developing trusting and supportive relationships and a sense of inclusion and togetherness in an organisation – even when working remotely. This understanding of the power of communication is a lesson we should never forget.
Within our own organisation, this approach not only meant that management teams were more transparent with staff, but we’ve seen the effect trickle down – our people are more open with one another and with their direct managers. There’s a lot more chatting happening online, a lot more emailing back and forth and a lot of conversations taking place over the telephone and during video conferences. 
It’s hard to see this level of communication ever going away now. In fact, it should be prioritised in the years ahead.

Taking forward the lessons into our new era of work

While these have been five important lessons, we should not downplay the serious personal and economic damage that the virus has caused.  However, acknowledging the real positives of such sweeping change, where they exist, allows us to pause, press the ‘reset’ button and instigate useful change in our world of work, instead of slipping back into our old ways in 2021. 
We know now that by coming together, we can make a lot of good happen from a bad situation and shape a new positive reality for all of us, both in and out of work.


About this author

Nick Deligiannis, Managing Director, began working at Hays in 1993 and since then he has held a variety of consulting and management roles across the business. In 2004 he was appointed to the Hays Board of Directors. He was made Managing Director of Australia and New Zealand in 2012.

Prior to joining Hays, he had a background in human resource management and marketing, and has formal qualifications in Psychology.

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