What we learned in business 2020

The end of the year traditionally brings a number of “best-of” lists. But 2020 wasn’t a traditional year. And for those who lost their jobs, their businesses or worse – a loved one – even a “somewhat ok” list feels like pushing it.

Few of us will get misty-eyed as we bid adieu to a year that added “cohorts”, “physical distancing” and “comorbidities” to our everyday lexicon. But if nothing else, we did witness some unprecedented creativity and innovation as businesses and workplaces adapted to a new way of doing things. As they say, necessity is the mother of innovation.

Here are a few examples of how business owners and their employees squeezed a little lemonade out of the many lemons that rolled out of the past year.

Virtual shopping

Streetify is an e-commerce platform that launched in March. More than just a way to shop online, Streetify is a website and app that lets shoppers “walk” down a specific street and click on the virtual storefronts they’d like to visit. Shoppers can see special offers and deals, and virtual storefront windows show delivery options, promotions and other messages from store owners. Streetify was already being developed before COVID-19 but the pandemic expedited its launch as business owners sought new ways to reach customers.

Contact tracing

Many businesses remained open throughout the pandemic, while others called their employees back to the workplace as soon as they were allowed. Employers needed to take measures to prevent the spread of the virus, including tracking who might have been exposed to COVID-19 if an employee did get sick.

San Francisco-based company Inokyo, which builds and installs autonomous checking for retail stores, adapted its technology to enable employers to deploy contact tracing in its workplaces and warehouses. The technology, called “Act” uses cameras and computer vision technology to see which employees have been in proximity to each other, making contact tracing faster and easier.

Online team building

When the pandemic started to shut down companies in the spring, Teambuilding, a business of 60 employees that provides corporate team-building activities to organizations including Amazon and Google – saw their sales plummet from $250,000 a month to nearly zero in three days as clients cancelled events. The company, which relied on in-person interaction, quickly switched to online activities and now offers 19 virtual packages, primarily on Zoom. TeamBuilding’s revenue has more than doubled since pre-COVID days.

And speaking of Zoom.

Whether it was on Zoom, FaceTime or some other virtual meeting app, colleagues around the world stayed connected via technology as the pandemic forced many people to work from home. While virtual meetings weren’t borne out of the pandemic – they started to become popular in the late 2000s – they are new to many of us. And, especially for those less tech savvy, the technology presented a steep learning curve – quite often with amusing results.

Just ask Peggy Clegg, who tweeted: “my boss turned herself into a potato on our Microsoft teams meeting and can’t figure out how to turn the setting off, so she was just stuck like this the entire meeting”. Peggy helpfully provided a photo.

There was also Tony who, at the end of a Zoom meeting, neglected to log off and revealed to coworkers that he wasn’t wearing any pants.

And another Zoom participant inadvertently overshared when nature called during a virtual staff meeting. Rather than leave the meeting, she took her laptop into the bathroom and forgot to turn the camera off, much to the shock and amusement of her coworkers. The incident even inspired the twitter hashtag #poorJennifer.

While 2020 has mercifully come to an end, the pandemic – and the challenges of working in this strange new environment – continue. Here’s hoping the new year brings new solutions, new innovations and good health to everyone.

Cheers! And keep your pants on.

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