The 8 Lessons Learned From COVID-19, But They Won’t Last

7 min read

With life changing significantly almost overnight in early March 2020 due to COVID-19, there is a growing thought that we are entering an era of the “new normal”.

The CoronaVirus has forced us to abruptly halt our usual activities, adopt new practices and become far more cautious in daily actions.

Words such as ‘social distancing’ and ‘self-isolation’ have now become regular parts of our lexicon. It is fair to say that we have learned a lot about ourselves and the world at large during this pandemic.

I’m very aware we are working on the basis that a vaccine is found, which may or may not be the case. Either way, the world is now operating on a new rhythm which will impact billions of lives for years to come.

When it is all said and done will we learn from the lessons we’ve encountered?

To answer this question, it is important to first consider what the lessons learned are. With that in mind, here are my 8 lessons:

1. Courage, ingenuity and kindness reign supreme

It is impossible to ignore the acts of kindness that have & continue to happen on an incredible scale across the planet. It is so reassuring that in times of crisis, humanity can pull together.

Whether it be the courage of every emergency service personnel, medical or teaching staff to keep going in the face of adversity, the ingenuity shown through connecting with others or the kindness shown by millions in donating to true inspirations such as Captain Tom Moore, humanity have pulled together.

It shouldn’t take a pandemic to reacquaint us with what is possible – remembering the togetherness is something we must hold dear for decades to come.

2. Ways of working have changed forever

It wasn’t too long ago that the term ‘working from home’ was regarded as a dirty phrase – implying that when staff worked at home productivity levels were low and scepticism levels were high.

This is no longer be the default assumption.

Many companies responded to the virus by implementing remote working at an amazing rate; showcasing what is possible when hands are forced. With such action, any preconceived ideas were shattered. Businesses continued even when faced with adversity. This is a testament to not only every IT department, but every employee who was lucky enough to work remotely.

“People are not remote working, they’re staying at home during a crisis trying to do some work.”

Never have truer words been spoken.

The virus doesn’t care about your seniority, your experience, or your importance. The challenges with lack of space, lack of childcare, or doorbells going off during meetings are being faced by us all. We are all in this together.

Our faith in ‘keeping calm and carrying on’ has been proven (acknowledging there were some speed bumps to be overcome) but we collectively got there. Kudos to all of us.

3. Travel is no longer perceived to be necessary

Closely tied to the ways of working, the expectation to be “in the office” has been shattered.

What was previously regarded as mandatory, now slips into the possibly bracket. The need to travel both to and from places of work or around the globe have been replaced with a virtual background and Zoom login.

From the UK Government briefings to special music gigs laid on by leading agents to virtual pub meetings with friends, there is nothing which is off limits for a Video Conference (VC) meeting.

There is no doubt the winner in this shift was Zoom. Yes, other VC services are available, but it was the perfect representation of right place, right time.

As we continue to get used to this new way of working, will we be as individually supportive or supported by Management (!) when travel restrictions are relaxed? It’s easy to support a new initiative when all is going well or there is no alternative.

4. Personal hygiene just became a public concern

What used to be kept personal has now become public. What was once restricted to the home, has now ventured into the public domain. The act of washing your hands should remain common place and not just because of the virus.

There is a fight brewing between individual rights and public safety.

Are we prepared to give up some personal freedom for the good of others? This is what it will boil down to.

Gloves, face masks, hand sanitiser, washing your hands and other forms of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) will determine not only the freedom of movement, but also the scorn or response of others.

  • If someone cloughs on a train in front of you, what do you do?
  • What happens when someone doesn’t wash their hands and then goes to shake your hand without gloves?
  • Will you remember to sanitise every part of your desk / public space before usage?

Unfortunately, your personal hygiene standards have just become everyone’s concern.

5. Climate change most definitely is a thing

I’m aware that it is a widely held belief that climate change is real, although there are some senior public figures who don’t believe this to be true.

The CoronaVirus has helped prove that the planet needs looking after.

4 weeks after lockdown started in northern India, the Himayalas were seen for the first time in 30 years due to the reduction in air pollution. It cannot be underestimated the impact that reduced travel, minimised business activity and fewer daily actions have helped the world recover.

We mustn’t be insensitive as many around the globe have lost their lives due to the incurable virus. But there is a silver lining, Mother Earth has amazing regeneration capabilities. We must not forget what can be achieved with a concerted worldwide effort.

6. Facts matter now more than ever

In a world that is changing at an alarming rate, we must have confidence in our decision making. Gone are the days of gut-feel decision making…there is too much at stake. The problem is that we have a tendency to ignore what the facts are telling us, until it is too late.

COVID-19 is a prime example.

The public response to initial lockdown was mixed to say the least. I am guilty as anyone of not taking it seriously enough to begin with; flying to Canada as the pandemic was creeping across the globe.

In an age where Cambridge Analytica & Donald Trump can influence millions of people with alternative facts (let’s be clear, we mean lies here) and get away with it, it is not surprising of the distrust in facts.

But we must persevere.

Facts help us learn; they help us understand why things happen the way they did. Without them we would not learn of the horrific acts committed in World War 2 across Europe, the heinous acts of gun crime in North America or devastation caused by the tsunami in Indonesia.

The responsibility to ensure trust is instilled back into facts sits with the media. We must hold individuals to account and pull them up when talking nonsense.

It is more dangerous to let a US President slander and misinform millions than it is to lose a few readers over upholding the truth.

7. Sharp decisive decision making is a must

Better make a bad decision than no decision,” this is a phrase that has stuck with me for a long time.

Having recently read about an ex-marine named Aldo Kane, who remarked something similar, it’s become a more and more conscious decision.


Because by making a decision, you are in control. Control in the sense, you are making things happen. Hopefully in the direction you want, but there is nothing worse than sitting back, doing nothing and then saying “I would have done it differently, if…

This is nonsense. Every politician that has ever lived knows this.

It is easy to point fingers and say you would have done something differently, especially when proving a negative is impossible.

As the UK Prime Minister knows well, you are always going to upset someone. The difference is are you acting in the best interests of the many.

If, or rather when, the next crisis emerges, will we remember the time wasted, the squabbling or indecision over tactics? Or make sure the lessons have been learned and act decisively like Jacinda Arden the New Zealand Prime Minister?

8. Digital access is now considered the same as oxygen

When I say digital access, this is a broad term for the internet.

The internet has been a huge proponent in dealing with lockdown, not just in the delivery of data for analysing the R-Rate (Rate of Reproduction for the virus) but connecting society.

It would not be an understatement to say that without the internet Captain Tom Moore would never have exceed £30m in fundraising.

The internet is like oxygen – we need it to survive.

This could be regarded as a melodramatic statement but think about it for a moment. How many of the older generations who are vulnerable and needed help were supported through connectivity over the internet?

It may have happened indirectly through a community WhatsApp group who identified someone in need, connected strangers together and arranged for medical supplies or food to be delivered to their front door.

I’m not saying this wouldn’t have happened without the internet but, my word, it would have been a far more painful, disjointed and slower process.

Digital access meant we could connect to anyone; your next door neighbour or someone on the other side of the world. It didn’t matter. What mattered was that we could connect and say hello.

The simple act of being there for someone is enormous.

Lending an ear to listen or having the first conversation in weeks meant someone cared. Yes, it is intrinsically linked to the humanity point raised above, but digital access is now a necessity, whether it be connecting the elderly, delivering medical supplies or fund raising.

9. The heroes of CoronaVirus don’t wear capes

It would almost be disingenuous to try and list those individuals who have put their own lives in front of those during the CoronaVirus pandemic. Inevitably I would miss someone or section of society and that would be unfair.

What I will say is that whether it be public servants, health workers, teachers, bakers, chefs, manufacturers, or bus drivers transporting front line staff, every single person deserves an enormous thank you.

There will be millions of people who are grafting against the odds every single day – to help others.

Life can’t and doesn’t stop. We must keep going, supporting each other, friends or strangers. We are all in this together, but some owe immense gratitude to others.

You know who they are, and I thank you. They are the real heroes.

When all is said and done and we come out the other side (whether a vaccine is found or not), we must remember the sections of society which are the backbone of the country. The individuals who worked tirelessly day after day for those less fortunate, in need or seriously ill.

It will be easy to forget how much we relied on these people when times are good. And that simply cannot happen. It would be a travesty.

But I fear it will happen.

It will be very easy to slip back into the mentalities, working practices and personal bubbles we formed prior to COVID-19, but we can’t let that happen.

It was all too evident last weekend in East London, where large numbers of groups ignored social distancing whilst still on lockdown. Congregating in groups all less than 2m apart drinking beer and eating pizza, you could be forgiven that the virus had never arrived.

The moment discussion turned to “taking the brakes off’, the expectation life would return to normal emerged & some of the public responded as such. This is why I don’t believe the public can be trusted. Halfway houses just don’t work!

If that is the case, we need to prepare for a 2nd wave because it feels inevitable.

In 12-18 month’s time, when life begins to resemble some sort of normality, will we remember these lessons learned?

  • Will we continue to support the local business over the large chains e.g. boutique coffee house vs Starbucks?
  • Will we continue to be more careful with how we spend our money?
  • Will we continue to prepare for the next global crisis or just ignore it?
  • Will we continue to be more considerate to strangers and those in need?
  • Will we remember to support the NHS regardless of political sides in the general election?

The pessimist in me says at the end of 2021, we will have forgotten all the lessons listed above; life will have gone back to pre-March 2020 levels.

I sincerely hope I’m wrong, but I fear not.

Brendan Ellis As the Head of Data at specialist lender Shawbrook Bank, Brendan leads the data vision & strategy across the business. Focusing on driving a data-enabled organisation, Brendan is passionate about delivering value to clients through data & innovation. Having previously established the International Analytics function at NBCUniversal and been responsible for Business Intelligence at Turner & Townsend, Brendan knows the power behind data. Brendan is a seasoned speaker, writer and podcast guest focusing on strategy & culture. He is a big believer in the challenging the status quo but in and out of work having completed endurance challenges (IRONMAN & Ride Across Britain) & established high performing cultures. Brendan is fascinated in digital transformation and how technology will continue to change the world.

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