Taking Stock: What COVID-19 Exposed and the Lessons Learned from It

By Jodi Schafer, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

It’s been an unforgettable four months to say the least. Who knew that qualifiers like, ‘never in our lifetime’, ‘these unprecedented times’ or ‘the new normal’ would become so commonly used that they’ve lost their luster?! The impact COVID-19 has had on our lives and on the world as a whole have left an impression that no turn of phrase can adequately describe. Our priorities, our businesses, our economy, our relationships, our physical/emotional/mental health, and even our patience have been pushed to the breaking point. And yet, we’re still standing. We look to the future. But, let’s not forget, to take stock of where we’ve been and the lessons learned along the way. 

  1. The value of professional resources. When unexpected crisis hit, physicians turned to those they trusted most to guide and advise them through the rough waters ahead. Organizations like the Michigan State Medical Society went into overdrive to serve members and anticipate the next need. Policymakers, HR consultants, attorneys, bankers, and CPAs earned their stripes in these recent months too, providing subject matter expertise in this ever-changing environment. If you previously questioned the worth of these relationships and memberships, now you know you can’t run a successful practice without them.
  2. The importance of a ‘rainy day’ fund. Financial advisors have long touted the importance of having three to six months’ worth of expenses set aside in case of emergency. While many understood the wisdom of this advice, surprisingly few have heeded it. For physicians who are just starting out, this was a goal they were not yet able to achieve. However, many experienced medical practices were also caught without enough in savings to cover more than one or two payrolls, let alone rent and other expenses. Having a financial cushion buys you time to make important business decisions. In the wake of something unexpected, like a pandemic, extra time allows for more clarity and confidence in the path you choose.   
  3. The correlation between highly engaged teams and resiliency. A strong team rises to the occasion; flexible, willing to help, and solutions-oriented. A disengaged team crumbles under the pressure; is more focused on individual gain than group goals and creates problems for someone else to solve. We’ve seen the impact of these team dynamics in our practices during ‘normal’ times, but it was during this recent crisis that the fabric of your team was exposed and tested. Leaders who invested time and effort to engage their people pre-COVID reaped the benefit of those relationships when it came time to respond to this pandemic. Teams who were less committed and/or resisted change turned an already difficult situation into a near impossible one.
  4. The need to reassess and reinvent the way business is done. Many practice owners never gave much thought to things like supply chain, logistics, remote work or scalability before the coronavirus hit, but this situation has highlighted significant challenges in the way we used to operate. Mandated closures and skyrocketing demand forced hospitals and outpatient clinics to find new ways of getting supplies. Limited operations led to virtual meetings with staff, telehealth alternatives for patients and the realization that not all work has to be done AT the office. Investments that practices make in technology, cross-training, PPE, and sanitation measures will pay off long after this pandemic comes to an end.
  5. Perspective. You’ve all heard that ‘balance’ in your life is important for your overall health and happiness, but having the world turn upside down with little warning really drove home how out of balance many of us had become. Suddenly, priorities became very clear. The distractions and busy-ness of everyday life fell away in an instant. The things that kept us going, the people and routines we clung to like lifelines in the storm, were what mattered most. Unfortunately, those are often the first things to go when ‘normal’ resumes. Set an intention. Prioritize what’s most important to you and let that guide how you choose to spend your time going forward.

Leaders learn from situations like this. Use this opportunity to take stock, to implement needed changes, and to prepare for the next crisis. COVID exposed the cracks, it’s up to us to fill them in.