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‘Managing to Stay Ahead’ in times of COVID-19

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Until December 2019, the phrase ‘2020’ was a reminder of the Twenty20 (T20) cricket format to which I constantly lost the attention of my family and loved ones. Little did I know that the year 2020 will shake and uproot the norms and beliefs that we have considered as constants for most of our lives. That this will bring forth the fear of worrying about the safety of our loved ones on a daily basis and we will be forced to operate each and every step mindfully when interacting with the world outside. That we will be challenged to find new paradigms almost overnight. That laptop, iPad, and other device cameras will be our lens through which and only which, we will connect with the world. Those medical devices as thermometer and pulse oximeter will find a way in our hourly lives sometimes. What a change this has been!

Feeling blessed, I would say most of us have managed to stay ahead in times of COVID-19, and the biggest factor and perhaps, the only constant of 2020 has been the safety and well-being of employees and people around us. I also offer my sincere and deepest respect and empathy to those whose world changed forever and suffered personal and professional losses.

A crisis of this scale is unprecedented, and it brought the world to an almost halt and this, I believe has also had an equalising effect on what each of us are going through, a unison felt and acknowledged across the globe. All of us worldwide are living with uncertainty of what tomorrow holds. The year of 2020 has taught us the value of investing in human relationships, taught us the essence of time not being the same forever, brought forward the unity of teams in a world that is widely distributed and that humanity does conquer all, eventually.

I have had many learnings and these I have shared in multiple forums across the year. As I sum up 2020 and begin the journey of 2021 and beyond, I would like to share my top ten lessons with you, on staying ahead in times of COVID-19

  1. The Shift Within – Belief Disruption

As the world of technology continuously disrupts, I experienced many a belief disrupted – like living through complete lockdowns and staying indoors and continuing to work. So whilst everything paused, nothing stopped. From Darwin to now, we continue to adapt and I owe this to our ability to disrupt beliefs from time to time and create new frameworks that are dipped in a contemporary context and modeled for the future. Let us continue to disrupt and evolve and adapt.

  1. Connecting with Everyone without Boundaries

The world had gone virtual, especially, video calls were a life savior and it was heartening to see our family, friends, loved ones and our colleagues come closer. All of this was made possible by digital platforms and hence, a big salute to the power of technology. Let us continue to connect over call and video more than perhaps a text or email.

I met all the employees through internal Connect sessions at Western Digital India and it gave me an opportunity to listen to the virtual onboarding tales of New hires, intriguing questions about my home-office setup from New College Graduates and many more. Let us continue to unfold our learnings and continue to connect with all humanity.

  1. Connect with Industry Outside

The year 2020 has brought in the need to network with much more clarity and criticality, as no one had all the answers and together, the industry was exploring solutions and their viability. From sharing best practices early on, the industry forums as NASSCOM took the lead in establishing new norms and guiding and facilitating its members through that. Being an active member of the industry and a wilful partner on these forums, kept us abreast and ahead.

  1. Invest in Human Bonds

We all stayed home much more than expected and it gave us an invaluable opportunity to be more with our family members. It created new challenges too in terms of us managing remote teams and managing full-time home roles and full-time work roles. Even as we work on the new normal, I would say, let us continue to invest in human bonds and enjoy the warmth of relationships that must be built with teams, colleagues, leaders, industry and society, overall. I cannot emphasize enough on the strength and significance of human connections and how they make work seem easy and fun. These bonds can be based on mutual interests, common goals and a sharing of common purpose and belief for life.

  1. Seize the License to Go Personal But Remember to Respect Boundaries

 The context of the pandemic has fundamentally changed how we communicate, collaborate or even celebrate. We have the license to go personal by prioritizing empathy and sensitivity while respecting personal boundaries, by truly connecting with state of mind and heart first, and discussing tasks and outcomes later. All we need to do is to really listen to what is being said and do this without any pre-conceived notions, biases, judgement or screens and masks on. Let us use the license judiciously to understand more about each other’s personal lives than before and empathy and respect each other more.

  1. Flexibility is the future of work

As I reflect on how work has evolved through this crisis, I realise that this has essentially made remote working feasible, acceptable and now, we are beginning to make it work for us and monetize the advantage. A lot many teams across organizations continue to work from home, stay productive and continue to deliver exceedingly well. In 2021 and beyond, the Future of work will evolve, Leaders would continue to understand the blurring of geographical boundaries, the spirit of being able to plug-in from anywhere in roles that can be done remotely, talent being viewed through a geographical neutral lens, and a more equalized world.

  1. Respect Everyone’s Time By Planning Ahead

We have essentially mastered the art of staying virtually connected and coming together beyond boundaries by accommodating through different time zones and different work hours. Setting up a frequent cadence to connect and scheduling in advance to ensure everyone’s presence and freeing up the calendar on festival days and let the time be judiciously spent with family and loved ones is a respectful choice, we all need to make. Planning for a lot less adhoc meetings ensures inclusivity, consistency and predictability. Often we hear of meeting overload, discussion overload and time zone conflicts and I believe pandemic has brought in focus the need to prioritize and differentiate between urgent and important, focus on few than many and I hope we continue to live these as we evolve and truly behave as global citizens.

  1. Infinite world to connect with – My Equation of Time & Technology

There are benefits associated with a digitalized world and with a lot less time, we have learned to accomplish a lot more. One can attend three different industry events in one day and still managed to be present for office work. With the iPad in view and technology as the backbone, the world has opened a lot more to a lot many and a lot more has been possible in a lot less time. My mathematical mind deciphers this as – Time and Technology when multiplied offer a reach that has the power of connecting the world.

Time * Technology = Infinite opportunities to connect with the world

  1. Be 100% Present – OTAAT – One Thing At A Time

While urgent work is more time-sensitive in these times of managing the crisis, we must make time for important work that has long-term consequences. From being absent at home to being fully present, and being a multi-tasker to a one at a time tasker, I have learned the art of managing time but by focusing on one thing a 100% at a time. I believe this pandemic has taught us to value and manage time differently than before. ‘In Discipline lies freedom’, I live by this adage today and it works wonderfully for me.  Let us be digitally connected and physically live in full, one thing at a time.

  1. Explore within and Accept Yourself

In a world full of expectations and constant feedback being shared and this universe-driven push to evolve and become better, we forget who we essentially are and more often fail to applaud ourselves for what we have accomplished and how far we have come. Living in the present needs practice. Knowing yourself and accepting yourself for who you are also needs practice. Learning to accept oneself and welcome opinions, feedback and changes is crucial but all of that makes sense only when you know where you are in life and importantly, what do you really want.

While the year 2020 redefined the norms, my version of 20:20 returned with the 13th edition of Indian Premium League (IPL) after a year-and-a-half wait, which is a gentle reminder of a ‘new normal’ that is around the corner for everything that got disrupted. Let us rejoice the return and I am learning to love the world of cricket myself. A historic recent win indeed did bring a wide smile on my face. Cheers India!

Going forward, as we learn to manage and balance, let us breathe in empathy and invest in human connections while staying resilient and authentic. I wish you all a happy, safe and brighter 2021!


Supria Dhanda

VP and Country Manager, Western Digital India

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