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Points of Light at the Heart of a Pandemic

Most would agree that the year 2020 has tested us as businesses, communities and as individuals in ways that few could have foreseen. Natural disaster, political turmoil and disease have always been a part of life, but the pandemic has delivered a real blow to the global community. There is no doubt about it: We will be struggling to regain some level of normalcy for months to come. Covid-19 has spared few countries; only nine months since the first cases of infection surfaced and already more than 1,000,000 people, world-wide, have succumbed. Economies have come to a virtual halt. People have lost work and income and suddenly find themselves in desperate situations. The lucky ones are able to work from home. What conclusions can we make about where we are now? The bleakness of the current situation colors our outlook and the difficulties are certainly easy to see, but is there anything positive to consider in all of this?

First, let’s think about the loss…

Loss of Partners, Friends and Family Members

Without a doubt, the passing of family, coworkers and others within our communities is the most tragic aspect of the pandemic. This virus has created death on a massive scale, the likes of which we are more likely to see during times of war. We lose people yearly to illness and many hundreds of thousands die from heart disease every year, but the numbers lost to Covid-19 exceed these numbers, even though we are well short of the 12-month mark.

Daily Life with Covid-19 Comes with Risk, The Magnitude of which is often Unknown

We have made significant strides as a civilization in the last 100 years. We know what is needed to sustain life and to protect human health. Science and technology have developed medicines and vaccines to treat countless medical conditions and to protect against more than a few horrific diseases. We know how to purify water, forecast extreme storm systems, and build the bridges, buildings and other infrastructure that support our modern way of life. But Covid-19 has forced a “reset” on what we thought we knew. It has shaken confidence in our ability to handle a global health crisis. We know now, without a doubt, that we are still vulnerable. Although the scientific community has made inroads, what we don’t know still dwarfs what we do. Navigating daily life in the last nine months has been an exercise in moving through uncharted territory. If I enter a public space, what will be my level of exposure? If I contract the virus, will my case be life-threatening or mild? These are the questions that haunt us—unanswered—from one day to the next.

Basic Social Interactions…Upended

The pandemic has forced us apart physically and we keep our distance—even, in some cases, from members of our own families. To avoid the spread of the virus we check all impulse to communicate via friendly physical gestures. Forget about the fist-bump or the friendly handshake. I can’t share tomatoes without taking precautionary steps to disinfect and sterilize my hands. It’s harder to communicate; I can’t read body language over Zoom. In person communication means I need to get better at reading other physical cues, like eyes for examples, which has never been a particular strength of mine.

But there is a silver lining to all of this, and it starts with what we have learned about ourselves.

We are Asked to Test our Resourcefulness and our Willingness to Sacrifice

Let’s not neglect the positives of this situation, because they are there, hiding in the midst of this crisis. As we reexamine how we go about our daily lives, our world view is bound to change. Forced to alter our daily habits and to forego social outings and other perks we want, many of us have reconsidered our place in the world. Maybe we’ve thought about the vulnerability of people in poorer communities or the front-line workers, or how lucky we are relative to the situation of so many others who have less resources to protect themselves. In some cases, we’ve accepted the risk and elected to help the weaker members of our communities to simply survive.

We have had to alter our expectations, make adjustments and make more than a few sacrifices over the last nine months. This kind of self-reflection and self-denial can only be good for personal growth and for our evolution as a tightly interconnected world community.

We Charter New Ground with Our Company

Not only have we been forced to be more thoughtful and resourceful as individuals, but as a company as well. Within a matter of days, and before the city of Noida officially went into lockdown, Highlands elected to move all employees out of the office. Staff rallied, organized, and set up all employees at home with computers, desks, chairs, printers and everything else needed to make work happen at a distance. Aside from a few minor delays, the well-oiled machinery that is Highlands at the Graphix Tower in Noida’s Sector 62 shifted into high gear, albeit remotely. Programmers collaborated and scrummed at a distance; sales representatives contacted clients and HR still looked after the interests of our highly valued employees. We made it work.

Yes, we as individuals and as a business are resilient. In the midst of a pandemic, we’ve managed to find a few “points of light.”

We Thank Our Lucky Stars in 2020

In a year that was hit, broadside, by Covid-19 and that witnessed the loss of over 1,000,000 people (and counting) to the virus world-wide, do we really have anything to be thankful for? I would argue that although the end of this challenging situation is not yet in sight and massive human suffering continues, we do have reason to be thankful. Let me explain why.

Resolve of Global Community to Work Together on Solutions

On one level, we heard our share of polarizing words, accusations and friction, all of which seems to go hand in hand with an international crisis of this scale. But along with all of this political posturing, particularly from certain parts of the globe, we also experienced real leadership. Effective and life-saving efforts came from unexpected as well as expected places. Real leadership was focused, uncompromising and unequivocally based on and driven by data, statistics and fact. Local leaders advocated for commitment, service and personal sacrifice. Under the best of circumstances, a quick response resulted in a swift decline in case numbers. New York City, for example, was the world’s Covid-19 epicenter for weeks in early 2020 but managed to bring deaths/day down from a peak of 952 at the beginning of May down to 2/day by the end of September. This drastic shift in the city’s trajectory was nothing short of remarkable.

At clinics and hospitals around the world, hundreds of thousands of medical practitioners rallied to treat those afflicted with Covid-19, not knowing if they were to be the next victims. Most had families and dependents at home. According to Amnesty International, over the last nine months over 10,000 health workers lost their lives taking care of patients with Covid-19. These selfless individuals remain and continue to be an inspiration to us all.

Numerous teams across the globe launched accelerated vaccine research initiatives. Political boundaries become secondary as scientists and medical practitioners shared information and discoveries relative to potential treatments and cures. Many countries and professionals rose to the occasion to collaborate and avoid reverting to a vaccine “arms race”.

A Dedicated and Committed Team that Continues to Rally and Push Forward

Closer to home, the work ethic and drive of the individuals that make up the team at Highlands continues to impress me. When it became apparent that the world was on the brink of a crisis, yet Noida was not yet shutting down, everyone at Highlands shifted gears in the blink of an eye. Within a matter of days, workstations and necessary equipment were moved from corporate headquarters to home offices. Giving new meaning to agile teamwork, Highlands employees are safe at home and working remotely.

Employees Game to Learn and Grow

The key word is humility. We approach everything we do here at Highlands with some level of humbleness. Here at Highlands we have recruited the best in class and the best in profession, but this doesn’t mean we think we know it all. No matter status, education, or years of experience, we know we are all still students of life and work. Crises are, if nothing else, an opportunity for growth. We strive to learn from our mistakes and move forward, capitalizing on any insights we’ve gained through our mistakes to make this living, breathing system—which is Highlands—maintain its edge.

Not only is humility necessary to move a team forward but change and evolution are necessary as well. Each day at Highlands is different because the needs of our clients—the engineers and the global communities they serve and the problems they need help with—are different, from one day to the next. At the core, we are dealing with natural systems and natural systems are fundamentally dynamic in character. Engineers need to have tools to grapple with change, unpredictability and flux, and we want to continue to make the tools that facilitate reliable analysis.

Customers that Push Us to Do More

Could you design a car without the driver in mind? Could a playground be fun and surprising without plugging into the imagination of a kid? Highlands customers are not on the payroll, but in view of how they drive and shape our products, they very well could be. They are as much a part of the development team as any of our programmers. The practical knowledge and insights they offer into how to make our engineering software functional and relevant for today’s engineering problems are invaluable. We treasure these customers for their drive, interest and contributions towards making our solutions for the world’s engineers the best they can possibly be.

Parting Thoughts on the Year 2020

This has been anything but a typical year, but even a year of challenges can offer surprising opportunities. Here’s to putting a positive spin on otherwise difficult circumstances. Here’s to counting our blessings and giving thanks when it’s hard to see what is still good in the spaces and in the lives of the people around us. Here’s to looking ahead with hope and optimism.

Mindfulness at Work

technology company can be a beast to run on a day-to-day basis and Highlands is no exception; our tech company wrestles with its share of hassles and urgencies on a daily basis. Looming deadlines, personnel issues, software glitches, or any other set of troublesome, but inevitable business concerns are here to stay. The question is not how to avoid thembecause we can’tbut rather how to address the daily headaches calmly, thoughtfully and with as little unnecessary upheaval as possible. 

We have our corporate “coping mechanisms”: the office protocols, hierarchies of people with specific responsibilities, and SWAT-like teamdesigned to swoop in and fix criseas efficiently as possible. But is there another tool we can use to both improve employee well-being and gain a competitive edge? 

Turns out that GoogleIntelGeneral Mills and many others have implemented their own training programs for a field of study once considered incompatible with the no-nonsense climate of businessGoogle’s “Search Inside Yourself” program, in use since 2007, has presumably reduced stress levels, and helped employees across the organization develop greater levels of empathy and inner calm. As abstract as it may seem on one levelmindfulness has a very real and concrete part to play in the tech world. 

Mindfulness Moves out of Medicine and into the Office Breakroom 

Mindfulness as a program got its start some 50 years ago when Professor Jon Kabbat-Zinn of the University of Massachusetts Medical Center developed the course as supplement to traditional medicineMindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) teaches people how to cope with stress, chronic pain and depression by changing thought patterns and encouraging patients to focus their energy on meditation and openness to the presentMedical practitioners noted that patients practicing some aspect of mindfulness generally had more positive experiences when dealing with serious medical conditions. 

Mindfulness principles have become mainstream in recent years as their ability to benefit areas outside of medicine, like the work environment and everyday life, have become more apparentTbetter manage the stresses of a typical workdayfrom interacting with clients to coping with deadlinesmany have found mindfulness principles useful and clinical studies have supported these findings as wellCompanies have found that mindfulness training helps employees develop a higher level of emotional intelligencegreater creativity and focus, and helps with a company’s productivity as well. 

At Highlands we believe that practices that can help employees maintain a balanced emotional state and outlook are beneficial to both the individuals and the company as a wholeHere are some key points about mindfulness to consider and use right away: 

Determine What is Important NOW and Focus on That 

Eckhart Tolle, a well-respected spiritual leader who has amassed a substantial following writing about the destructive patterns of living in the past or fearing the future, writes in his book, The Power of Nowthat the present moment is all that really matters. Everything else that you may be thinking of is a distraction from what you could be doing now. Thoughts that lead you to worry about future scenarios or past mistakes clutter your focus and prevent you from taking action or fully enjoying and maximizing the present moment. 

Don’t Dwell on the Past or Fret about the Future 

In the context of work, once you have carved out time in your calendar to work on a future project, stop thinking about it. Similarly, don’t dwell on past mistakesRuminating on yesterday’s flawed PowerPoint presentation won’t allow you to go back in time and fix it. Instead, make a mental note of how to approach the project differently next time and then move on to the assignment that needs your attention now. The more time we spend dwelling on a past incident, the more negative power it has over our thinking. Random thoughts about the past or future that swirl around in your head add up to mental “clutter” and don’t allow you to move forward. 

Listen More and Judge Less 

A workplace where people listen to each other is the ideal but is rarely the normAdopting a more mindful state of being means listening more and resisting the urge to speak first and judgeTake the time to hear and understand another’s point of view. Consider your own strengths and weaknesses as you relate to your peersApproach questions that come up at work with careful thought and deliberation. Greater openness and understanding of another’s point of view and greater self-awareness leads to a calmer, more productive work environment. 

Tap into Calm Energy to Fuel Work at Highlands  

It may just take 5 minutes or less to feel the energy in your hands or feet, become aware of your senses, listen to your breathing, and center on the present momentYou won’t find yoga mats at Highlands, but we do encourage you to try mindfulness techniques to refocus and recover a balanced state of mind.