The world has been turned upside down in the first half of 2020, and in the UK, the last few months have been strange with Coronavirus, COVID-19 and furlough becoming entrenched in our vocabulary.
The ever-changing landscape, guidelines, and serial overuse of the phrase ‘the new normal’ has left a lot of people feeling uncertain about their future both personally and professionally.
Now, with lockdown measures starting to ease across the UK I wanted to share the lessons I’ve learned from lockdown and how I will use them to shape the way I work in the future.
1. I like being around people!
To be a people person is pretty essential for life as a consultant. A core of the job is about working with a wide range of stakeholders, understanding individual and organisational needs to identify what really matters to them and delivering on that. The inability to meet people and discuss things face to face has been a challenge, and although technology has enabled me to continue doing my job effectively there really is nothing better than being around other people! Being able to be in the office or on-site with clients has it’s advantages both professionally and personally, building relationships through the side of the desk conversations and ‘in-between work chats’ that have been missing at times over the past few months. ‘Zoom/Teams fatigue’ is also most certainly a real thing, especially when your personal interactions are done through a screen as well, with family catch ups, quizzes and virtual pubs. The lesson learned here is just how much I enjoy being around other people both in a professional and personal capacity and the value it brings for my clients and my own well-being!
2. My brain craves a project
Prior to lockdown my wife and I were looking through our weekend plans for the 1st half of the year and wondering when we’d have time to get any jobs done due to the wonderful things we had planned. Then lockdown happened, everything was cancelled and I was very conscious of the possibility of me spiralling into unproductivity! Thankfully, I’ve been lucky to have two projects to keep me occupied in this time: the work Nine Feet Tall have been doing with Jessie May, our Chosen Charity for 2020, and renovating our home. Both have been really rewarding for different reasons and have certainly kept me busy, making me realise that I’m the type of person that thrives on being busy and having something to focus on through uncertainty. For me it’s also highlighted the importance for organisations to help their staff engage in something other than their work, while still at work. Supporting an extremely worthy cause using my professional skills has been beneficial twofold; I’ve really enjoyed applying my skills to a different problem and hopefully I’ve been able to provide a service and insight they wouldn’t ordinarily get.
3. Clarity in messaging is really important
I think we can all agree that at times the messaging around changing guidelines, what is allowed and what the future looks like have been confusing for the public, causing some disputes over what we should and shouldn’t be doing. And although a lot of this was to do with the speed at which the situation was developing, it’s reiterated even more so how important it is to plan what you want to tell those impacted and ensuring your message is effectively communicated. Making the time to review communications to ensure they hit the mark in terms of frequency, content and the method, as well as getting input from others not involved in the project are valuable ways to ensure your messages are as clear as they need to be.
4. Anxiety over uncertainty is okay
This is largely a personal point but a very important one all the same. It’s okay to be worried/anxious about uncertainty and I’ve found that the key is to recognise these moments, before trying to think rationally about the situation and potential outcomes. There have been a number of reasons to be anxious over the last few months, whether that be in your professional or personal life and the thing I’ve come to learn is that you’re not alone in having those thoughts. Talk to your colleagues, friends and loved ones about your worries and be honest about how you’re feeling, there really is truth behind the saying ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ and you never know where a potential solution may come from.
5. Control the controllables
I’m happy to admit that I can sometimes be a sucker for worrying about things I can’t necessarily do anything about. Unfortunately that characteristic has reared it’s head over the last few months, particularly in relation to following social distancing guidelines (I’m looking at you, man who leaned over me to get some potatoes in the supermarket) and making sure my wife, who is pregnant, is safe. I’ve had to learn to stop worrying about those things I can’t do anything about and focus on those where I can make a real difference to changing the situation. Translating this across to my working life I’m going to continue using this mindset to focus on what I can do for clients to deliver the most value and make a real difference.
6. Don’t overthink the big stuff, all will become clear
A classic revelation to end on here, but one thing I think we are all guilty of from time to time. In my professional capacity I tend to embrace what I don’t know, starting with a blank canvas and making assumptions to get started. Over time I’m able to gather more detail, adding layer upon layer until I understand the bigger picture and can assess potential solutions more accurately. In my personal life however, it’s sometimes not been as easy to be that methodical and particularly over the last few months it has been hard to breakdown what has been going on into manageable chunks and work through to a resolution. Applying how I work to my personal life may not be an exact fit, but it has certainly helped me work through some of the situations lockdown has thrown up.
The first 6 months of 2020 have certainly been challenging in more ways than one, but they’ve forced me to think about how I go about things from day to day, learning how to apply things from my personal life to my professional life and visa versa. Whatever the next 6 months has in store, make sure you stay safe and look after each other.