The COVID-19 pandemic brought disruptive changes to corporate life, with rapid transitions to remote work for many companies. While that transition was initially difficult to implement, business leaders are finding that the new ways of collaborating with staff members are unlocking new opportunities. As companies transition back to the office, some of these modifications will go with them.

In a recent Inc. 5000 webinar, Jennifer Lopez, vice president of product development and the head of Capital One Innovation Lab, and Tom Nolan, CEO of Kendra Scott share insights from their experiences during the pandemic, and some changes in work life to come. Here are six takeaways from that conversation. 

  1. Remote work elevated inclusion and transparency

"Something I loved about working in the office was I could run into someone, and we'd have a conversation, and all of a sudden we had this interesting idea," says Lopez. "That doesn't happen on Zoom." What originally felt like a moment that was missing from remote work--random hallway conversations--ended up democratizing access to information and connectivity. "Now everybody's in a Zoom window. Everything is a Slack conversation." With transparency, decisions are clear to everyone, and everyone's voice is heard. "That benefit is something I never want to take away."

  1. A crisis can focus needs and priorities

Kendra Scott's three pillars are family, philanthropy, and fashion. The organization has always been flexible, says Nolan, and has created a culture helpful to working moms. The company had to learn how to better serve customers, getting them products faster, and maintaining the pace of events. The company ran 20,000 events in 2019 and needed to move all events virtually during the pandemic. "It's core to our business and all of those were for philanthropic reasons," Nolan says.

  1. Change is the only constant

The biggest lesson Nolan says he learned was that nothing is standard anymore. What is now standard is to "not just react to change but embrace it and expect it." The team had to adapt and navigate uncertainty. "I think it gives us the confidence to know that we can withstand anything that's coming," he says. "If we can get through that, survive, and thrive in it, we're going to be able to get through anything."

  1. The pandemic highlighted staff members' humanity

People at smaller businesses may feel deeper connections to colleagues on a day-to-day basis, says Lopez. "There's a belief that when you're in a large corporation, that's not the case," she says. However, the pandemic cultivated empathy in the work environment. "Everyone felt such deep connection," she says, and many conversations went beyond the stock answer of "fine" when asked how someone was doing. "Because there's a lot going on. When everything is turned upside down, you can't show up to work as a different human than the person that was in the bathroom crying five minutes earlier," Lopez says. The pandemic showed that who people are doesn't change when they turn on their computers. "We are those people at all times."

  1. Saying thank you is powerful

It's important to appreciate colleagues not just to retain them in the midst of a worker shortage, but to help them feel comfortable and confident. Feeling fulfilled in their roles and excited to be part of something bigger is motivating and can be harder to do when working remotely. Nolan warns that leaders can get stuck in the weeds, with their heads down working, and forget to look up and say, "thank you." Peer-to-peer recognition is important. Nolan and other leaders spend time talking with workers, thanking them, and asking what they can do to help. That has always been part of their culture, but it's gotten a lot more important with remote work because the employees are still working hard, if not harder, than before.

Lopez recalls a video Capital One's CEO had the whole company watch together, about what it took to enable call center agents to work from home in a matter of days. "We were all on Zoom and there was not a dry eye in the audience, seeing that come to life. And to me that was a massive 'thank you,'" she says.

  1. How to use technology to eliminate meetings

Working from home helped both companies decrease the number of meetings, by using technology. "We love Slack," says Lopez, and they started using a template to update project statuses. "We call it a Slack-up. And it's fun because it can have emojis in it. You can throw a GIF in there," she says. The Slack-up gives a quick view of the project status in 30 seconds and people can respond. "You have a level of engagement that wouldn't have been there previously," and it saves time.

Kendra Scott now has fewer PowerPoint presentations. People are learning to communicate more effectively and faster. "There's going to be an amazing emergence of brands, technologies, and thought leadership that has come from the last 18 to 20 months and I'm excited to see how it betters our business."

As companies continue to navigate the pandemic, lessons like embracing change and expecting the unexpected will get more comfortable.