For the second time in only ten years, our country is being forced to make changes, grapple with new unknowns and face uncertain futures. For many, these never normal times are propelling us to hit a reset button.
On Saturday, 1st August, I kickstarted a new show on RTÉ called Reignite, aimed at helping to inspire people into action by giving them an hour of inspirational stories, practical advice and a sense of belonging to a community of like-minded people.
We heard from business woman Gina Miller (best known for taking two legal cases against the UK government and winning); from The Squiggly Career author Sarah Ellis on figuring out your Super Strengths in order to make career changes; Paula Fitzsimons from Going for Growth and Back for Business, who listed off all of the supports and networks available to people thinking about starting a business or side project; and the not-for-profit Grow Remote, whose mission is to increase employment in regional areas. The website, growremote.ie, received so much interest during the show that it temporarily crashed due to an unprecedented amount of web traffic.
Reset in the Countryside
In recent weeks, I’ve talked to many people re-evaluating their past assumptions about needing to live in cities and suburbs. Those choices, often resulting in higher housing and living costs than their rural counterparts, were rooted in a belief they needed to be close to public transport in order to be close to the office. Others, in pre-COVID times, moved to the countryside but endured long commutes from commuter towns such as Belfast, Carrickmacross, Athy, Greystones to Dublin every day. Too often, people’s most stressful part of their day was experienced before they even reached the office because of those lengthy, often frustrating and stressful commutes.
All of the ‘essential’ reasons for living in the city or commuting from the countryside suddenly feel ‘non-essential’ now that we’ve been forced to work remotely. People’s fantasies about living a country life are now a real possibility, which could in turn have positive knock-on effects for our local towns and villages. Hence, why a website like GrowRemote.ie crashes on a Saturday morning when one of its founders Tracy Keogh talks about concepts such as ‘Town Tasters’ in which they bring people to places like Dingle in Co. Kerry to experience the town, work from the local hub, attend events and more. Companies like eBay, Shopify and PayPal are now out recruiting with the ‘location’ field on job platforms now left open, rather than geolocated to their headquarters.
A Virtual Workforce
There will be many, of course, who won’t have the option of remote work because of the nature of their work. But for others, a new blend of remote work and occasional office meetings will become the norm until a vaccine is available. This office/remote blend will require radical new levels of trust and transparency between employers and employees so that the spirit of honest communication and intense productivity can be maintained.
It will mean building new policies in partnership with employees, based on listening to and understanding individual preferences and needs in this never normal COVID world. It will mean teams sharing best practices around how to implement ruthless prioritisation and timebox their day, so it is bookended, rather than an evening of work seeping into a nighttime of work.
The positives of remote work are well rehearsed at this point for those who’ve now won back hours in their day, previously dedicated to commutes, and for some employers who are better able to retain key talent, promote sustainable working and experience new cost effectiveness.
For many, productivity has actually increased, as evidenced by the Microsoft CEO’s statement that more digital transformation has happened in his own company in the last two months compared to the last two years.
New policies for this blended workforce are being drafted as we face into an uncertain future living alongside COVID. But what will be hard to capture in any written policy - even with occasional and regular meetings taking place in person - is the energy, ideation, serendipity, wow moments that can come from being in the space physical room/space brainstorming around a whiteboard for long periods of time.
Starting With Why
What will bind people, however, in these times of uncertainty and separation is a clear unambiguous sense of why they do what they do, why they get out of bed every morning, how they contribute to a company’s vision and mission, how they have a sense of ownership of it.
The author Simon Sinek says, “ in business, it doesn’t matter what you do; it matters why you do it.” The question of ‘why’ is a simple but profound question we’ve probably all asked in recent months, whether reconnecting with our sense of purpose in current roles or imagining a new career move or thinking about starting a side project. It’s a moment for reset.
And that’s where the need to be ‘flexibly stubborn’ (as coined by Jeff Bezos) comes into play. The need to remain stubborn on a vision but flexible on how to get there. Without a stubborn persistence to your sense of mission, you’ll give up too easily, too soon. But if you’re not flexible enough, you’ll miss out on other solutions and ideas that could help you reach your vision.
But how can you develop flexible stubbornness? You need to know your values, your strengths, the overarching outcome you’re seeking, the type of life that you want, and the answer to the question: why me, why this, why now?
Finding Signal in Noise
Over the course of August, as people hit a reset or are cast into a state of reinvention because of forces beyond their control, we’re going to be building on the ‘whys’ and helping people figure out what drives them as a core foundation in order to explore other themes such as how to turn an idea into reality, how to overcome our inner critic, how to fail fast, how to build resilience.
There are powerful questions to be asked of ourselves, of each other, in these never normal times. There is a balance to be struck between our collective fear of the unknown and finding a place where we can find some optimism, to test, to try, to trust.
A Louisiana State University professor paraphrasing Charles Darwin in 1963 once said: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It’s the one that is most adaptable to change.”
Those words are ever more timely and relevant as we live through a once in a century event and try to find ways of turning catastrophe into opportunity, of reconnecting, of hitting a reset and refueling for the journeys ahead.