It has been exactly one year since the first Covid case was detected in Australia. Here SCS CEO Gill Batt describes the major lessons she, and SCS staff, have learned during the pandemic.

As a CEO I frequently receive newsletters and information regarding current issues in business.  I recently got ‘Four Lessons for Managing through a Pandemic’.  Suggested insights were: “Evaluate prospective investments, even during a crisis” and “Cultivate your networks.”  Neither of these seemed particularly relevant to us, but it made me think about what lessons I’ve learned over the past year. I also asked everybody here at Sydney Community Services what they’ve also experienced.

My first thought was that some people have a much better social life than me.  Judging by the alerts from NSW Health, there is one couple on the northern beaches who appear to have eaten out about eight times in three days, as well as regularly attending a gym and do several laps in the pool each day.

So here are a few lessons and thoughts from 2020:


  • How to wash your hands – apparently I’ve been doing it wrong for 60 years.
  • That there is a difference between hand sanitisers.  It comes to something when you become a hand sanitiser snob!
  • How to sanitise a shopping trolley. In fact, how to sanitise everything!
  • How to push a lift button without using your hand.


  • How to wear a mask properly, including putting it on, taking it off and how to stop your glasses steaming up.
  • How to smile when wearing a mask.
  • How to avoid people you don’t want to see by pretending you don’t recognize them in a mask (and vice-versa).
  • One of our nurses writes, “I’ve learnt how to practice mindfulness so when my husband whinges about wearing a mask for his 10-minute bus trip to work, I can remain outwardly neutral, but in my thoughts tell him to harden up, nurses have been wearing them for the whole day for TEN months!”

Social distancing

  • How to protect your personal space and fend off unwanted physical attention (e.g. hugs and hand shakes) by reminding people of the social distancing rules.
  • How to show someone that you are excited to see them without touching or kissing them.
  • How to comfortably take up a whole seat on the bus without feeling like an inconvenience to society.
  • Don’t touch MEN (Mouth, Ears, Nose)
  • How to stand perfectly inside a red circle.
  • When making a guest list you actually have a legitimate excuse for not inviting those you really didn’t want to invite anyway!!

New skills

  • How to use a QR code
  • How to take a temperature with a machine that looks like it has come from a MacDonalds Happy Meal
  • How to use Uber Eats
  • How to maximise your Netflix binging capacity without ever leaving the bed.


  • How to wave in a way to tell someone they are on mute.
  • Check your background!  You are letting your workmates into your homes – find the most intellectual books you have.  Dan Brown and Barbara Cartland don’t give you gravitas.
  • “Touch up my appearance” doesn’t work!   I still look old.
  • How to carry out a serious meeting while fending off cats under the table with both hands.

From our staff

  • “Being a community nurse has its perks during a lockdown – no traffic! Time to work quicker, time to all our patients quicker and trip home quicker. Win win win!”
  • “I am now particularly au fait with the toilet paper aisle at my local Coles and all supermarkets in a 5km radius”
  • “My husband does not need to fly to different cities for his business trips (he is a senior audit manager, so needs to travel around other cities for auditing sometimes).  He has done more cooking, gardening and cleaning than ever before in last the 10 months.  Thank you COVID.

Most of all I have learned that people are very social and need human contact – much of our time has been spent ringing our isolated members of the community and just having a chat.  I have also been reminded how kind and generous local people are.  Whenever we put out a call for pantry items to help families and people in crisis the community responded with an overwhelming number of donations. Overall Covid has given us lots to think about but I think the main one for me is that the most important thing is to be kind, patient and understanding.