4 Lessons 2020 Taught Us About Adaptability in the Workplace Covid-19 forced businesses to create a more empathetic and flexible environment. Continuing these new practices will help create a more inviting and enjoyable workplace.

By Kathy Jeffery

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

For years, professionals have asserted that the ability to adapt and be flexible would determine whether businesses sank or swam. The Covid-19 pandemic, however, put that ability to the absolute test in 2020. We've learned some major lessons through the crisis that, fortunately, hold the potential to help company leaders and teams build back stronger than ever before.

1. Providing better health and wellness resources

During the pandemic, people faced a slew of new stresses and disruptions to their everyday life. Many individuals struggled to do things like make doctor appointments or eat right. Personally, I struggled with being unable to sleep well my home and work life blurred so much that my mind simply wouldn't shut down.

Companies discovered that they had to face these issues head-on during the crisis, both to maintain productivity and to ensure that workers felt cared for. We learned the necessity of total wellness resources, including mental health, financial health and various other kinds of support. We expanded existing programs and came up with new tools to support employees and their families.

The expansion of telehealth services is a good example. At my workplace, one of our Prescription Digital Therapeutics (PDT) products helps people who struggle with chronic insomnia. We offered this as an added resource for employees in our comprehensive benefit program. In using it, I had the opportunity to learn the importance of sleep, and it helped me create healthier behaviors and habits. It was life changing for me, and I am forever grateful. It's the small things that companies don't always think about that can make the biggest difference in our team members' lives.

Related: A Year of Pandemic: Learning for Entrepreneurs and SMEs

2. Rallying around empathy

Before the pandemic, employers and employees interacted with a relatively limited degree of vulnerability. They couldn't really understand what the home lives of others were like. With so many people working from home, it leveled the playing field. Both workers and leaders had to show their realities and deal with interruptions from pets, kids and significant others. Many learned to be more empathetic and accepting of the personal circumstances people had.

Overall, this lesson has helped many companies, including my own, shape more grateful, caring and compassionate cultures, where people are free to speak up on topics other than work. My company encouraged managers to check in regularly in order to understand how they were feeling, not just about their jobs, but also about issues like civil unrest, the presidential race or their home life. We asked employees and managers to demonstrate "unified empathy," put themselves in the other person's shoes and offer more conscientiousness.

Related: Why an Adaptive Mindset Matters for Entrepreneurs

3. The clock doesn't have to rule productivity

In the early days of the pandemic, the big worry for employers was how to keep workers motivated and productive from afar. It was almost impossible for many employees to keep their regular schedules, and it only got more difficult once homeschooling began. Businesses had to accommodate more unusual work hours and be flexible based on case-by-case situations. They learned that workers still got their tasks done even without face-to-face supervision or a traditional daily schedule.

4. Leveraging communication tools matters

Even though workers had digital communication tools like email before the pandemic hit, most teams still relied heavily on in-person collaboration. But once businesses had to work remotely, they had to collaborate more through tools like Trello, Slack and Zoom. They learned that they could still achieve effective communication through these options and that leveraging them could help maintain or even improve results. Even so, tools are only as good as the users that are using them. Companies have to encourage consistency and build good habits in the way they use these solutions and include strategies to ensure that people easily navigate and find value in whatever tool they select.

Related: The 4 Best Tools for Internal Business Communication

With the pandemic now coming under control in the United States, businesses are starting to end their remote journeys and go back to the office. They can apply all of what they have learned to make the post-pandemic work environment more inviting. Even so, the past year has been a roller coaster. Ideally, we need to give employees time to acclimate. Take small steps, such as easing your way back in slowly with just one or two days at the office per week to start. With a little patience, you can adapt, get your footing and walk a road with a new perspective that brings even more success.

Kathy Jeffery

CPO of Pear Therapeutics

Kathy Jeffery is an empathetic and results-driven leader of people and culture, leadership learning, DEI, health and wellness and HR technology.

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