10 things 2020 has taught me about leadership

8th January, 2021

I had every intention of writing about how well we’ve managed our remote inductions in 2020, (I’m not just saying that – our lovely new team members have told us) but there are many other things we’ve done in 2020 that have been positive and of course we’ve learnt some real lessons about what hasn’t worked. This is a reflection on the year from a people and leadership perspective.

Who knew in March when we all moved to home working that we would still be here at the start of 2021, despite the vaccine developments.

Here are 10 things that I have observed or learned in 2020.

1. Recruitment and induction had to be completely virtual

Overnight we lost the in person elements of interviewing and welcoming new team members. We had to work very hard to be warm when all someone could see was your head; and watching body language along with answers to questions was indeed a new skill. 

We’ve hired more than 10 people this year with at least seven of them going through a fully virtual recruitment and induction process. Our lovely office manager has been instrumental in ensuring the new team members not only feel welcomed (welcome gifts, laptop arriving on time etc) but also the thorough and well planned induction schedule that helped to make the first weeks and months as successful as possible.

2. Working from home requires a different kind of discipline

For many of us who were 100% office based, working from home was a mix between an easy day and a treat. How wrong we were! Once we’d realised we needed to be at least half dressed, (but that we didn’t need to power dress) the issues came from working all day, starting early and finishing late because there was nothing else to do (not so for those with young children – I’ll come onto that). 

The team became tired and were regularly encouraged to use home working as a way to be more flexible – to get out for a walk in the middle of the day – to just take a break. 

Being as busy as we have been has been bittersweet as we were so used to decompressing together at the end of a busy day. It does take discipline to close your laptop and walk away from your ‘desk’ when it’s your dining room or kitchen table (or even your bedroom). Not all of us had lots of space and were also sharing with others who were also working from home. As a company we had to recognise and acknowledge that the experience of working from home was different for everyone.

3. Not being in an office means you can lose connection with the subtle issues

All those grumbles and frustrations that seem trivial, build up to become a mountain…those things a team physically located together often pick up on without the need to tell someone and can help resolve. 

All of that went. Which meant some issues built like a pressure cooker. When we re-opened the office, I realised how reliant my leadership was on those small little ‘tells’ and I’ve had to be much more proactive and ask for feedback so I do hear about the challenges anyone in the team might be facing.

4. Video calls/meetings are exhausting

Unlike Raman (who loves to see himself – too much?), I hated video calls before lockdown – I did them, but through gritted teeth. Of course we had to resort to any kind of video for communication as at least we could see each other, but having to sit still while in a meeting of anything from two to 40 people sometimes for eight hours a day has become exhausting. Why is it so exhausting? Because you can’t move about as you might do in a physical meeting. Perhaps Facebook portal or an equivalent is the answer (until we can project ourselves into someone’s front room!).

5. The personal challenges are magnified

As I mentioned above in point two, working from home has been unique. Layer that on top of having small children at home, or young children who need home schooling, then add illness of relatives and loss, inability to see them, the birth of babies without the usual family support network and isolation. 

Work is almost secondary to some of the other things that lockdown life has thrown at the team. Thankfully, some of the early pressure has eased. But, in the UK, we’re back to homeschooling and separation from family. We can only hope the vaccine gives us back some of those social and family elements that are so lacking.

6. Everyone became more human 

Gone are the ceiling tiles and magnolia walls of offices along with the horrible lighting. Most video calls now give you a little more than you realise and it all contributes to breaking down barriers and has largely shattered the corporate/work facade we all sat behind. 

Pets and children appearing are all accepted (to a point) and seeing a little of someone’s home fills in some of the missing non-verbal communication. We’ve been friendlier to each other generally and have produced some incredible work with our clients, all using video (workshops being one of our biggest achievements).

7. Communication is key – we all say it but this takes a different kind of effort

You’re probably bored of hearing or reading this – it hung over us before but the majority of issues within a business comes down to poor communication. With the other aspects of an office environment gone due to lockdown, making sure the team connects both from a vision, values and objectives perspective (but also socially) is key. 

From virtual social events, maintaining the company update meetings to the regular email or slack updates, all is valuable for different people at different times. I don’t imagine this will change very much. One thing I have learned is to be better at managing anyone who is remote. Our US team, who always felt slightly disconnected to the office hubs in Europe, now feel the playing field has been levelled.

8. Flexibility and showing the love 

We now have to ask ourselves why we even thought setting a 9 to 5 schedule was realistic. It’s never really been a thing for me but it takes confidence to let it go – lockdown forced it upon us. 

If we thought we had control over when people worked when we were in 

the office (we didn’t really), we certainly didn’t when we all went home. And you know what, it’s better for everyone. As long as the work gets done and we provide exceptional service then if that happens at 6am or 6pm then it’s not important. 

But I will add the caveat that flexibility has not been as two way as we would have liked due to the nature of the ramarketing business in 2020. It has been busier than we expected and I hope that in 2021, our team can indeed benefit from the flexibility we can now offer. That flexibility and understanding also translated to our clients and throughout we have ensured we have recognised personal milestones or losses through unexpected gifts or small acts of kindness for both our team and our clients. 

9. I still had to make the difficult decisions

We at ramarketing and in fact, much of the pharma industry, have been lucky. Work has continued at an energetic pace throughout 2020 and despite the loss of face to face events and meetings the whole sector has been galvanised by COVID-19. But we’ve been surrounded by people who have been furloughed or who have lost their jobs which has made implementing the difficult decisions even more poignant. Doing that with humility and dignity has always been my aim, but perhaps more so now with the hardship that surrounds us.

10. ‘Invisible’ leadership was a skill I had to develop 

We all think of leadership as something we see every day and it can be if it needs to be. But when we’re all remote often that leadership is unseen. It supports and drives, encourages others to step up and shine and watches and listens. My role at ramarketing is not to be out front driving the brand and vision; I have learnt that it is to sit quietly and make sure everything happens at the right time and in the right way.

These are the elements that have stood out for me in 2020. I hope we retain the positives from this as we return to a more office based existence. But if nothing else, we are going to be better because of 2020!