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Time to Sharpen the Saw?

During this unwanted extra period of home working, where a vaccine programme is tantalisingly close yet still far away, we all know we must still pace ourselves for the long cold nights that lie ahead.

Author: Dr Mark Pegg, Director, Chalfont Associates

One area I feel strongly can help you stay positive and boost your own mental health is to use this challenging time to work on your skills – grow new ones, refresh old ones or even re-skill to change direction at work and in life.

First consider your context.  How has home working actually affected you?  Office for National Statistics data show you are keeping good company - some 35% of workers were still working entirely from home before the 2 nd lockdown and a further 20% were at home for part of the week. Although 65% of employers expect workers to return to the office after the pandemic, another 20% expect they will continue home working in the longer term.  Productivity during home working has not been much affected – a recent survey showed 37%  of employers said it made no difference, 29% said it actually improved and only 6% said it had markedly fallen.  That is not to say this new world is without real challenges which may be affecting you too.  The Bank of England’s Chief Economist Andy Haldane fears it is reducing his capacity for creative thought: ‘social capital’ is being lost, ‘creative sparks’ are being ‘dampened’.  Recent Institute of Personnel and Development surveys point to many concerns about the human impacts of the shift to remote working - around future motivation and engagement, interaction and co-operation and the ability to monitor performance effectively.

So how do you keep the creative and innovative juices flowing and stay motivated?  What resources can you call on to stay positive, build confidence, look after your mental health and keep a sense of purpose? How do you use your time well when you can’t travel, can’t go out, can’t hang out with friends, can’t see family and can’t do many of the very things you do best?

You could spend more time chilling and watching box sets, but my strong recommendation is to use at least some quality time to ‘sharpen the saw’ as guru Stephen Covey once called it.  Use the time saved commuting for YOU, use time wisely to prepare to take on the brave new world after Covid-19.  It has never been easier to study – hugely accessible, no more boring lessons, it should be fun: bitesize, lively, absorbable.  It should focus your mind, stimulate your curiosity, build self-awareness and equip you intellectually and emotionally for what is to come.  It could be part of a radical step to prepare for a new career path – many of us are thinking how they will fit in with a quite different post-pandemic job market - or simply about personal or professional improvement.  You are never the finished article, it’s a great time to refresh, get up-to-date, hone core skills, strengthen your weak points, build on your strong points – aim to be better at what you do.

So, what are others doing? In my day job, I teach in business schools and listen closely to the kind of things clients ask for.  What do they say they want more of, do differently or do afresh compared to a year ago before Covid-19 had even been heard of?  They don’t want long programmes: they want masterclasses, the essentials – short, sharp, bite-size, two hours, high impact, live streaming, interactive, pushing online to its limits – absorbable, memorable and mindset changing - insightful thinking to extend and upgrade their skills.

They definitely want more on virtual and digital: more help communicating and presenting better online – no surprise there!  They want insights on making a bigger impact, working more skilfully with teams they do not meet and, inevitably, on working together more effectively to perform better over distance.  They want more on the best ways to use social media to develop their marketing and promotion skills: to maximise their hitting power.  They want to upgrade their skills to create innovative and imaginative ways of working, to leverage their place in the online world they see dominating the post-pandemic new normal.

There is also strong demand for more personal skill development – on building resilience, handling uncertainty better, on holding difficult conversations in a brutally challenging business environment.  They want to learn new tools and techniques to complement their old armoury of face-to-face skills.    

Finally, many are resetting their planning and strategizing processes.  They are changing their culture to meet a future dominated by online business with quite different customer and colleague relationships.  Many clients have had a lot of time to think deeply about the life they want to lead and the sort of business model they want to build.  They often envisage a vastly different, greener, more sustainable future. In many conversations with clients, I hear how home working has meant spending more time with their children (including the challenge of home schooling!) and the silence of the lockdown has greatly increased their awareness of the natural world. It has made them reflect a great deal more about the world they want the next generation to inherit.    

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