The Workplace Silver Linings of 2020

By - January 8, 2021

15 million people remain unemployed due to the current pandemic.  25% of adults in the US reported that they or someone in their household was laid off or lost their job during the past year. The pandemic has also exposed the inequities plaguing the American workplace. Add in PPE implementations, adapting to working remotely for the first time, social distancing, and an inability to travel or hold in person events, and the world of work grows even more chaotic.  

So why are we calling this blog “The Workplace Silver Linings of 2020?” Because as we have heard from the professionals featured in our Job Shadowing and Life Skills Videos that there can be much learning, even in chaos.  

A Good Reminder to Always Stay Adaptable 

“Nothing is certain,” states an article in The Atlantic titled “The Workforce is About to Change Dramatically," listing examples of ebbs and flows in the professional sphere. Change being constant has always been a valid point, but even more so in 2020. It’s a key part of the advice given by almost everyone with spoke with.  

“It’s been a good reminder to stay nimble,” states Graphic Designer Jacob Voigt. “Do the best job for your client while being efficient with their time/money.”  

Janet Cone, Athletic Director for the University of North Carolina at Asheville echoes this. “I’d tell young people worried about this year’s changes to be nimble, flexible, creative, and a problem solver, and you’ll have a career and probably be very successful.” 

“People keep saying, ‘I can’t wait for normal,” said Gwinnett County Schools Academy Coach Nikki Withrow. “But is there an actual normal? We’re always changing. I think there’s never a normal.”

An Opportunity for Self-Reflection & Improvement 

Another silver lining of the pandemic has been the opportunity to reflect on both your personal and professional goals. Is what you’re doing working? What steps do you need to make the necessary changes? 

“We’ve been spending our time improving ourselves,” said Janet Cone. “How can we be more efficient? How can we use our staffing better? Are there some things we should be doing differently?” In her professional life, this includes finding socially responsible ways for student-athletes to train and compete. 

Speech Therapist Kendra Holloway is impressed with job candidates who show a willingness to grow in ways they might not have done before the pandemic. “Volunteer in any field that interests you,” she advised. “I’ve had several applications for an office reception position, and it’s really awesome to see those that have gone above and beyond to fill in opportunities by volunteering.”

Challenges Lead to Innovation 

As history has shown us, crises and necessity often lead to innovation.  

Media Producer Greg Otterholt points out, “While many companies have had severe challenges...others have thrived beyond imagination. It's like a veteran football quarterback seeing a window, changing the planned play, and calling an audible to convert would-be disaster into success." 

Yashika Smith, Inclusive Engagement and Leadership Manager for the city of Asheville, North Carolina adds, “I've had to be more innovative and strategic around engagement, being intentional about connecting with those communities when it is most convenient for them. Sometimes that's through the schools or even pop-up food markets.”  

Smith also points out how challenges and innovation can lead to wide-ranging systemic changes that benefit the greater good. “People everywhere are starting to realize how busy we've all been just trying to keep life going,” she shared. “And that we've not had much time to notice how our existing systems and structures aren't sustainable.”

A Catalyst for Change 

One effect of COVID-19 in 2020 has been to expose and accelerate the discussions around the systemic racial, socioeconomic, and gender issues that have been a barrier to workplace success. As we wrote in a June 2020 blog, “Career Exploration Needs to be Where We Have Those Tough Conversations,” “Culture and work are inherently interlinked, and often changes in the workplace are what spearhead larger changes in society.” 

As Yashika Smith told us, “Disparities widen when a crisis happens. If in everyday life your basic needs aren't met, what is an inconvenience for those who are stable suddenly becomes an emergency for those who aren't.” She continues, “My work in equity has now been centered around shining a spotlight on what has already been happening in the shadows, but now we all have been forced to stop and recognize.”  

Conversations are happening. People and the workplace are adapting. Changes are being made for the greater good. While the process and reasons are difficult, the fact that they are happening is inspiring. “I am hoping,” Smith said, “this unexpected awakening is enough to keep us all activated.” That hope is the ultimate silver lining.   

You can find individuals featured in this blog in Job Shadowing or Life Skills Videos. Jacob Voight is profiled in our Graphic Designer video. Janet Cone is featured in several Life Skills Videos including "Asking for Help Shows Courage, Not Weakness,” and “How to Make a Great First Impression.” Kendra Holloway is profiled in the Speech Pathologist video. Greg Otterholt is profiled in the Media Producer Video. And finally, Yashika Smith is featured in several of our Life Skills Videos including “What is Inclusion?” and “Take Away the Taboo of Privilege.”  


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