14 Invaluable Lessons Business Leaders Learned During the Pandemic

The year 2020 saw a tremendous shift in the business world as we know it. Businesses big and small have witnessed firsthand the negative effects of a global pandemic, and many are still trying to find the best way to move forward. 

But as with all crises, there is opportunity for optimism and learning. Below, 14 members of Rolling Stone Culture Council discuss a few of the most difficult but invaluable lessons they learned throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and how their own businesses changed as a result.

Everyone Plays an Important Role

We’re all connected. Even the largest companies have realized in 2020 that without their “essential” workers, they can’t function. People whom the business world used to regard as replaceable and low-tier are now considered essential to our success, which should give us cause to reconsider the level of respect and care we provide to everyone on our teams, from the “bottom” to the “top.” – Gideon Kimbrell, InList

Leaders Can Help Mitigate Employee Stress

I’ve learned that it’s our responsibility, as leaders, to help our employees manage the incredible amount of stress they are under. And it’s not just about work stress, although that is certainly in our purview. It is about finding ways to help our teams mitigate the stress of the pandemic, the fraught political environment and the increasing racial and socioeconomic tensions. It’s not only the right thing to do for our people, but it is also sound business practice. We can’t just expect our employees to leave the stress of the world at the door. We need to provide constructive pathways to discuss challenging issues and we need to implement policies that help our employees find balance in their lives. – Dan Giuliani, Volt Athletics

Companies Must Remain Adaptive to Change

Businesses have, for a long time, taken for granted just how stable (comparatively speaking) our cultural climate has been and how quickly things can change. Businesses that have been able to pivot amid massive rapid change have survived. Meanwhile, those that have not been agile have either not survived or have taken a major loss. It’s important to see opportunity in the midst of a crisis or confluence of events, and not be upended by the fear the change may pose. – Steven Le Vine, grapevine pr + consulting

Everyone Goes Through Different Experiences Than You

I’m reminded of how unequal this pandemic has been. My personal experience and the experiences of those around me are not at all representative of the general population. We run a mobile games development studio, and at a time when our team was fortunate enough to transition to fully remote and run operations with minimal disruption, other companies were furloughing 96% of their staff. Companies that were poster-child success stories of growth right before the pandemic were closing down and liquidating. We heard from players who relied on our games to help them forget the stress of being unemployed and who were combating depression. We heard from families of longtime players who didn’t make it. I’m reminded to be aware when making decisions not to rely solely on what I see around me. – Pokin Yeung, Absolute Games

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We Can Be Flexible and Do More With Less

The pandemic forced us to speak to our community in different ways, and to learn to do more with less in times of uncertainty. We had to move away from our heavy in-person event focus, and shift to digital, while tightening budgets where necessary to weather whatever was going to come. It really reinforced the value of an adaptable team and flexibility in how we speak to our audience. – Russel Wilenkin, Old Pal

You Can Always Find a Solution to a Problem

There is always a solution to be found. As the media landscape changed throughout the year and we watched publishing houses go through layoffs, editorial priorities were changing constantly. The art of pivoting is invaluable. You need to have the ability to pivot and find a solution at any given moment. – Anthony Langone, Marbaloo Marketing

Compassion and Patience Are Always Necessary

I believe most of us have learned how essential it is to be aware of the many challenges our employees, co-workers and partners are facing in their lives. Everyone is dealing with the stresses of this strange season differently, and it is critical to remember that almost everyone is surrounded by shadows you cannot see through Zoom or hear through a phone call. However, these shadows are very real to them and likely impacting their worldview massively. This is a great time for extra compassion and patience. And the remarkable thing is that this is in no way unique to these times of plague. I find that a valuable thing to reflect upon, and I hope that those of us reminded of that this year go forward with more compassion and patience. – Tim Fields, Kabam

Diversification Is Key to Ensure Success

A hard but invaluable lesson learned during the pandemic is an old but good saying: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Our company did a lot of business in the events space and millions of dollars of potential revenue disappeared overnight. The same could be said for retail and hospitality. Through the pandemic, we’ve learned to diversify further, because you really never know what will happen. – Bridget Hilton, LSTN Sound Co.

Strong Relationships Can Truly Make Your Business

At the onset of the pandemic, my small team of three wouldn’t have been able to produce the journalism necessary to quickly deliver crucial public health and safety information to our readers without the help of foundations and individual donors. Their support didn’t come out of thin air. We had cultivated these relationships through various outreach initiatives for over two years, while maintaining consistency in our work on thetriibe.com. When it mattered most, these supporters showed up and said, “What do you need?” We raised double our operating budget and added five staffers during this time. Now, we’re stronger than we’ve ever been. – Morgan Johnson, The TRiiBE

Maintaining Your Organizational Culture Amid Chaos Is Essential

Company culture matters immensely and is a tricky thing to maintain when everyone is forced to be remote. Often organizational culture is driven by the emulation of leaders within the company, with those leaders being examples of the core values of the organization. Without seeing people face to face on a daily basis, it can be difficult to pick up on those cultural cues in the organization and it forces you to think of creative ways to maintain organizational culture. You have to be prescriptive and mindful of it even more than you were before the pandemic. – Cy Scott, Headset

Leaders Must Learn to Listen in Order to Innovate

I’ve learned that the world needs thought leaders to focus on listening as much, if not more, than they focus on speaking. As the need for innovation and out-of-the-box thinking rises, most are focused on how to use technology to drive change. But at the end of the day, culture is driven by humans, not computers. Our new world will be formed through innovation in empathy and the understanding of the people we work with now more than ever. – Shara Senderoff, Raised In Space

Preserving Connections Is Difficult, But Necessary

Keeping a sense of community while working remotely is difficult. Zoom and Google Meet are great, but nothing replaces the human element. As a leader, finding creative ways to keep everyone feeling connected and part of a team has been the biggest challenge. I have found over-communicating to be a big plus. People need to know that they are still part of a company that cares and is doing everything it can to protect and nurture them through the pandemic. The exact same thing can be said for communicating with clients. They need to know that you are still in business, able to service them and are also keeping them and your employees safe. – Domenic Rom, Goldcrest

Everyone Has a Stress Limit

Not necessarily something learned, but something reinforced has been how important it is to recognize when you, your team or those in your industry are hitting their limits with regard to stress. Covid has created an additional layer to everyone’s day, whether it’s having to be more present for children who are learning remotely or feeling concerned about family or friends impacted by the disease or the fallout from it. Being understanding, empathetic and genuinely concerned about the well-being of those you work with is essential to keeping the train on the rails. – Rob Fess, Apex Trading

Culture Never Stops Moving

Even with fewer events and opportunities for in-person interaction, culture hasn’t stopped moving. If anything, developments and trends in content communities have accelerated. With people more plugged into their digital networks than ever, expect the here-and-now to evolve faster than ever. – David Tao, BarBend

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