A chorus of jeers is rising for 2020 in its waning days, and for good reason. But before we bid the year a hearty good riddance, consider whether it left us a few unexpected gifts.
How do we hate thee, 2020? Let us count the ways.
Actually, let’s not. That list would be way too long, familiar, and depressing. It seems safe to say that very few of us will be sorry to see the screen door hit 2020 on the way out. Unfortunately, we’ll be cleaning up the mess it left behind for some time to come.
But as hard as it may be find them—and as accidental as they may seem—2020 had a few redeeming qualities. For associations, I count at least five things to love about the year we love to hate.
As hard as it may be find them—and as accidental as they may seem—2020 had a few redeeming qualities.
It clarified our priorities. In an emergency, when resources are suddenly scarce, the fog around priorities—a person’s or an organization’s—tends to lift.
Maintaining meetings in some form became Job One early in the pandemic, leading to a rush into the virtual space—a shift that was probably overdue, but better late than never. Associations now have nearly a year of experience with virtual meetings that they can build a post-pandemic event strategy on. (My colleague Samantha Whitehorne has been chronicling that journey for nine months; her work is worth putting on your holiday-break reading list.)
Meanwhile, many associations made a quick advocacy pivot to prioritize their members’ immediate needs as economic activity nearly ceased in many sectors last spring and then resumed only haltingly. They also took meaningful action to assist with the world’s pandemic response. Internally, many association leaders faced difficult choices about operations and staffing, which led some to take a hard look at the core values and culture that would be needed to sustain their organizations through the crisis and beyond.
We broke free of the office. After virtual meetings, the shift to remote work was the story of the year for associations, along with so many other organizations. Some made the change more easily than others. But after the extended experiment with scattered teams working in places other than a headquarters office, the possibilities for continued flexible work arrangements that would likely help attract and retain talent—not to mention smaller overhead budgets that would come with less office-building square footage—look enticing for the long run.
We dove deeper into DEI. The racial reckoning that grew out of the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and too many others pushed associations to recommit to diversity, equity, and inclusion. The summer protests came and statements were issued, but in many cases the response went deeper. Many organizations and coalitions launched new initiatives to address systemic racism in their professions and industries.
Some associations convened difficult conversations among staff and members and examined whether access and opportunity were truly available to underrepresented groups in areas like volunteer leadership and event participation. In ASAE’s Collaborate community , members sought help from their peers and shared details of their own attempts to grapple with complex issues around social justice. Conversations there focused on practical topics like appropriate DEI terminology, use of demographic information in member recruitment, and DEI guidelines for conferences.
We made personal discoveries. I suspect most of us learned something new about ourselves this year—maybe deep, maybe trivial but still interesting. (Me: It wasn’t too late to try yoga and love it; and hey, I like jigsaw puzzles!) We figured out new and far more rewarding things to do with time we used to spend commuting. Last fall, readers shared their COVID-19 silver linings with us.
We learned to appreciate ordinary things. As much as we may love our down-the-hall commutes and bunny-slipper-level home office attire, there’s been a lot to miss: the impromptu deskside drop-ins from coworkers, a favorite coffee shop down the street from the office, even the long hours and sore feet of in-person conferences. I know I took those things for granted, or even complained about them, in 2019. I promise you, that won’t happen in 2021.
So thank you for these gifts, 2020. Now get out.
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