5 Lessons From the Pandemic I Hope to Remember as a CEO

We may be heading back into the office but we need to remember the lessons the pandemic continues to teach us.
Headshot of author Rami Essaid
Rami Essaid
Expert Contributor
November 18, 2021
Updated: November 19, 2021
Headshot of author Rami Essaid
Rami Essaid
Expert Contributor
November 18, 2021
Updated: November 19, 2021

With the end of the pandemic (hopefully) in sight, most of us are eagerly waiting to go back to normal, (whatever that is) but there are some things that might never go back to the way they were before. What habits of pandemic life could (or should) remain with us after things have returned to normal?

Will we continue to enjoy the calming power of frequent walks around the neighborhood? Will Takeout Tuesday still be a thing? How about weekly Zoom calls with distant family members?

Why not? Many of the perspectives we’ve gained and rituals we’ve embraced during the pandemic could be beneficial in post-pandemic life, and I suspect we’ll find they’re worth holding onto — in our personal lives, and in business.

As a startup founder and CEO, I know Covid-19 has driven home several lessons that will stick with my company well into the future. 

Here are the five biggest lessons the pandemic taught me; I hope to remember them long after the pandemic. You should, too.

5 Pandemic Lessons Every CEO Needs to Remember

  1. Prioritizing employee mental health was long overdue.
  2. The future of work is remote plus.
  3. Business travel is often unnecessary.
  4. Stretching a dollar is good.
  5. A good leader knows how to trust.

 

1. Prioritizing Employee Mental Health Was Long Overdue

Companies want their workers to be healthy but, pre-pandemic, the emphasis was on physical health and wellness. From standing desks and healthy office snacks to activities like step-counting contests, the focus has been on the physical.

While many employees have had access to at least some mental health services through their company medical plans, open conversations about mental health and well-being were uncommon. 

No more. Though mental health should have already been a prime concern in a digital age that exerts heavier, ever-changing professional demands and threatens work-life balance, pandemic-related stress has finally put mental health on equal (or even higher) footing with physical health in corporate life.

Like many other companies, ours expanded our wellness benefit in 2020 to not only include, for instance, a gym membership but anything that promotes emotional well-being. We’ve also sought to remove any stigma around an employee taking a mental health day.

Fortunately, I don’t think this is toothpaste that can be put back in the tube. Companies would be foolish to ever retreat from this increased attention to mental health. Supporting employee mental health is not only the right thing to do, it’s good for business.

More on Mental HealthMental Health Is a Workplace Issue. It Shouldn’t Get Overlooked.

 

2. The Future of Work Is Remote Plus

My company was already completely remote before Covid-19 because we believed increased employee productivity, ability to hire the best talent regardless of location and elimination of office-related costs are irresistibly huge benefits. But I’ve learned something in the last year: Even in an all-remote model, it’s critical for teammates to have some in-person quality time.

You can’t expect people to build connectedness and trust when they see each other exclusively as squares on a Zoom screen. Being physically together, even if it’s just two to four times a year, is necessary to foster a collaborative company culture.

Nothing seems quite the same when employees exist in a 100 percent virtual world – not even the company holiday party. I went all out last December to try to make ours shine. During the four-hour online event, I scheduled a beer tasting (I shipped brews ahead of time to partygoers), a performance by a magician and a Bingo contest.

Everyone said they had a lot of fun… but that it just wasn’t as good as being together.

The pandemic may have accelerated the trend toward remote work, but I think a lasting lesson is the value of a remote plus approach in which employees work wherever they want most of the time but still come together on occasion.

Heading Back to the Office? Read This First.Return to the Office, but Change Your Approach

 

3. Business Travel Is Often Unnecessary

There have been times in my career I spent 50 to 75 percent of every month on the road to meet with customers, connect with employees, pitch investors and attend trade shows. Even after Covid-19 is in the rear-view mirror, I doubt that number will exceed 30 percent ever again.

The pandemic showed us that so much can be accomplished in a simple Zoom meeting. I suppose we knew that before the pandemic, but it was more customary to get on a plane and interact in person.

The last year has proven that was often a silly waste of time (not to mention CO2 emissions). In-person meetings have their time and place, but my road warrior days are over.

More From Rami EssaidWhy Startups Need to Rely on Solid Financial Modeling to Succeed

 

4. Stretching a Dollar Is Good

As in the Great Depression and other hard times throughout history, the pandemic made thriftiness a virtue.

During a global crisis, you inevitably evaluate expenditures more stringently. So while I may have sprung for an elaborate online holiday party to bolster employee morale, I’ve also been putting our capital expenditures for things like software tools under a microscope.

Covid-19 has reminded everyone that carefully examining every expenditure for ROI is always smart.

 

5. A Good Leader Knows How to Trust

I think back to a previous company I founded and led — one that had physical offices. I was a hands-on CEO by nature and I’d often roll up my sleeves and work closely with people on a project or task.

But with my new company and its all-remote model, it would be hard to micromanage even if I wanted to. When everyone is at home, you just have to trust that people are getting their jobs done well. Which, of course, they nearly always do...without the CEO looking over their shoulder.

I suspect many executives have become more trusting during the pandemic and that many will remain so. Those who haven’t will inevitably lose employees to managers who grant them more autonomy.

More Expert AdviceAvoid Micromanaging Your Team With This Approach

I’m reluctant to call any of these five lessons silver linings, since it’s hard to find good in a pandemic that has killed five million people worldwide, battered the global economy and disrupted life for everyone. But we can’t ignore what we learn from hardships.

Business leaders, just like anyone else, should cherish the perspectives the last year has revealed or reinforced. In many cases, taking these lessons to heart will only make us — and our companies — stronger.

This article was originally published on The Next Web.

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