By James GOH
The pandemic as a result of COVID-19 is taking the world by storm, and businesses around the world are affected drastically. This in turn creates great unprecedented impact on jobs within our economies. However, this time of crisis also brings about unique opportunities for career development, allowing us to turn adversity into advantage should we choose to embrace it. I personally see this period as a window to build new skills, find new ways of working, and to reflect.
1. Opportunity for building new skills
Over a cup of coffee recently, a business partner of mine was lamenting about the impact of COVID-19 on his work and business. Among his torrent of worries and frustrations, I realised his experiences could in fact be enriching for him and his career. He mentioned he had to design a business continuity plan for his company for the first time, and had to do so within a few short days. Furthermore, he also shared how the virus situation forced him to learn how to manage teams in dynamic and time-pressured scenarios. These are experiences that only come about during times of crisis, and if my friend chooses to embrace and work on the skills required to overcome these challenges, there’s valuable skills to be gained for after the crisis is over.
Zooming out from my friend, I realised there are certain whole sectors that are disproportionately affected by the measures taken to control the virus spread. This includes sectors such as aviation, tourism and retail, where many workers now find themselves either unoccupied or unfortunately unemployed. Individuals who find themselves in these sectors are certainly experiencing stress and pressure, and without detracting from the seriousness of their circumstance, it occurs to me that there might now be some additional capacity and time for up-skilling and personal development. They are either preparing for a strong rebound when the economy recovers, or to transition into a new industry or role. They’re certainly demonstrating resilience and agility in action. While we’re in the center of this crisis, I hope workers start to shift their attention onto these development opportunities, leveraging the support many of our governments are offering to support their income while they make pivots in their skillsets for future employability.
2. Opportunity to consider new ways of doing things
As an immediate result of the virus control measures taken by various authorities, many of my contacts suddenly find themselves in new remote working arrangements. I had a zoom call with a client yesterday who explained that their travel has been cancelled for the foreseeable future, although they still need to perform regional work, and manage stakeholders from around the world. Somehow their workday has extended way beyond what it had been before, because of the crisis management and escalation of other projects which are now business-critical. Although they were still working from the office, workplace segregation is being practiced, so the colleagues who used to be sitting to their left and right are now working from home on alternating days. This isn’t uncommon for my clients here in Singapore. Authorities have cautioned that due to the nature of the virus, these arrangements could possibly evolve to become the new norm even as the situation gets better. This potential ‘new normal’ makes our ability to thrive and adapt to these practices even more important.
These new working arrangements might seem tedious as first, but when viewed from another perspective, they provide an opportunity for individuals to consider how they can do their work better, and differently. Sometimes habits change with a sudden jolt, and we realise with clear insight how ineffective our old behaviour was. I encourage my network to view this COVID-19 period as a chance to explore novel and innovative ways of tackling work and getting outcomes. For example, a set of new rules and work norms can be developed to ensure open and clear communication channels among colleagues, despite not being able to meet face to face. In another instance, individuals can consider to make use of online productivity tools to maximize their outputs, while keeping their co-workers located in different places updated on what is happening. In my team for example, we use google chat, trello and google sheets to collaborate and project plan online.
Finally, working from home blends the boundaries between work and personal life. This can be challenging for some families, however, if managed well, this could translate to individuals having more time for loved ones, while maintaining the same levels of productivity at work. All that time we previously spent commuting, and eating lunch at our desks, can now be seen as prime family time.
3. Opportunity for reflection
I encourage all of my contacts to take the chance to reflect through this period of physical distancing, or perhaps to even just have a short rest. This may sound counterintuitive against the stressful backdrop of the COVID-19 outbreak, and when businesses today are struggling. However, with the demands on productivity constantly pressuring individuals in today’s usual work situation, this time of crisis (with less social interactions, outings, company events etc.), provides a perfect opportunity for respite, and a valuable chance for introspection and reflection.
Reflection and rest are important for anyone’s career development, as allow for us as individuals to take a step back and understand ourselves from a broader point of view. Studies have shown that reflection plays an important role as a predictor for career success, as it helps us identify strengths, weaknesses, values, interests, skills as well as blind spots that we might need to work on for our future growth. By making use of any additional time we have to reflect, we allow ourselves to prepare for an even stronger career ahead.
In conclusion, as more and more cases of COVID-19 appear across the globe, we are in a climate where we see plenty of negativity spreading across every aspect of our lives. However, it is important that we see the light at the end of the tunnel, and understand that with every adversity, comes opportunity. It is up to us to embrace these opportunities to secure our ability to both recover faster, and better out of the difficult situation we are facing at this time.