Who did you learn from in the early stages of your career? Whether you were aware at the time or not, you were surrounded by good and bad examples of how to do things in your chosen field. This must have informed your choices as you progressed.
One such example from one of our clients came from a boss’s boss in their first job – a regional sales manager – who was overlooked for (well deserved) recognition over several years before finally getting promoted. When our client asked her how she kept her spirits up through all that waiting time she replied: “Oh I always behaved like a regional manager – I wasn’t going hang around and wait for the title. That was just the rubber stamp.” Big bit of career-shaping learning right there.
Learning from others has particular relevance at the moment with the temporary physical separation from our colleagues and bosses. Many of us have been working remotely for over 4 months now and whilst return is on the horizon, it’s a slow return and for some, the office as we knew it, is likely to be an occasional base rather than a permanent one.
In the early days of lockdown, the emphasis was on communication. We all got Zoom/Teams/WebEx/whatever You Use-savvy and developed creative ways of staying in touch and staying connected. Midway through lockdown, motivation waned as we realised this was going to be our main mode of communication for the foreseeable. We lamented the loss of the warm body experience, of meetings, away days, retreats, and events. It is exciting to see a cautious return to these on the horizon, to fill a gap that just can’t be filled remotely.
But actually, there’s another gap caused by Covid-19 that needs filling. When we ask our clients what they are missing about the office, group events are on the list but not top of it. Top of the list is those little nuggets of learning that happen simply because we are near others. It’s sitting next to your boss when they informally debrief with you on a tough negotiation. It’s hearing someone opposite you handle a call really well. It’s sitting in a meeting and seeing it chaired professionally. Sometimes it is the counter-example – a conversation handled badly, a conflict that escalates, an ill thought decision where we learn the “how not to” lesson.
At the moment with work as it is, we’re missing these opportunities to learn and to teach. This is a particular problem for our younger colleagues, who rely on these opportunities to develop and grow. So, what can we do until they can once again happen naturally?
If you’re experienced and, in a position, to teach – find opportunities to do so. Include slots for learning in your regular team meetings. Talk to the team about some of the challenges in your week and how you’ve sought to overcome them. Share your knowledge whenever you can because at the moment, they can’t pick it up from being near you.
If you’re in a position to learn – ask more questions. Show interest. Volunteer for tasks and projects that will stretch you and ask for a proper briefing and regular debriefing. This will help you to know how you are progressing in tasks and projects.
It isn’t complicated, you just have to make time for it and see it as a valuable part of work. That way this will be a year where we all learnt, not purely through adversity, but also just because we were at work and that’s where the learning happens. This can be the case even if the current workplace is the spare room, the kitchen table, or the end of your bed, until we meet again.