Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it’s off to work we go!

Which dwarf has to stay at home with the rule of six? Happily since Snow White and her seven dwarves are in the same family bubble, they should be OK. 

The summer holidays are now a distant memory, the kids have gone back to school and the fortunate people with jobs to go back to have been relishing the opportunity to get properly stuck in to work with minimal outside distractions.  This blog reflects on our collective ‘return to work’ after the summer recess and questions whether it will ever revert back to pre-covid patterns of working. 

I personally saw the start of September as a key date to sharpen my focus, both in my work and personal life, after what seems like five months or so of ‘taking each day as it comes’.  In my work life I was operating at around 70% productivity in the preceding five months to September, with home schooling being added to the mix amongst other distractions.  Most of my business contacts with young children have relished the re-opening of schools so that they at least have some kid free time to be more efficient in their work life. September is when I consciously return the productivity dial back to pre-covid levels and enter the Autumn with a renewed vigour and spring (!) in my step. 

The late August/early September news (pre last week’s announcement of tightening of restrictions) was dominated by the Government’s call to arms around getting back into our places of work, if safe to do so, and supporting businesses, particularly those that have been so reliant on worker trade.  UK GDP fell by a record breaking 20.4% in Q2 (April to June 2020). In comparison, throughout the 2008 recession, GDP declined by no more than 2.1% in a single quarter.  GDP in July 2020 grew by 6.6%, which is the third consecutive monthly increase, but this has covered off just over half of the lost output as a result of coronavirus.  This is coupled with the recent news that 695,000 fewer people were on payroll in August 2020 compared to March 2020.  This is only going to increase as the furlough scheme winds down and companies look to remove costs in order to remain viable. 

Whilst it’s hard to ignore the ongoing covid doom and gloom, there do appear to be some green shoots of recovery.  Scouring the job boards shows that there are still a reasonable amount of roles out there – the challenge is that there will be many more candidates chasing down fewer roles.  We are helping candidates ensure that they stand out in that crowd.   I have just had an email from two of my clients who are looking to recruit into their team and need our help, which is the greatest number of new assignments we have had in a long while. 

This blog outlines four of my predictions in relation to changes at our work:

Working from home

Working 9 to 5 

Speaking to a variety of clients and candidates on a daily basis provides me with a great cross-sectional sample of how individuals (and businesses) are dealing with the pandemic.  Individuals are generally a little sick of constantly being on Zoom/Teams and having to stare at the same four walls of their office/bedroom/kitchen/lounge.  Quite a few people I speak to are now trying to break their lockdown routine by having a change of scenery once or twice a week.  Most are itching to engage face-to-face with their colleagues in some capacity.  There are a lot of benefits to home working but two downsides of it are the varying practicality of individuals being able to work from home and issues of isolation.  I recall one candidate I spoke to admitting that they just didn’t have the discipline to work from home. 

A lot of individuals are using the time to think about how work life will change post covid and if they have been used to a five day in the office pre-covid they are challenging the notion that they need to be in the office five days a week moving forward.  Many have proven that they can do a more than adequate job working from home.  I’d be interested to hear of any scientific studies that accurately quantify work productivity at home – anecdotal accounts suggest that home workers tend to start work earlier (as they don’t have the commute time to take into account) and are often working later as they are not subjected to that familiar signal at head office home time when co-workers start to leave.  True, there are distractions at home (deliveries, laundry, cleaning) but there are also may non-productive distractions in an office environment. 

Prediction 1: Finding balance

The days of the typical daily grind into an office are firmly over and will never fully return to previous patterns of commute. It is all about balance and I believe that many will settle on 2-3 days in the office and the rest of the time will be spent working from home (clearly this will depend on role/grade/location).  As long as this change doesn’t materially affect their ability to do their job.  This could also change the dynamic on where people live, relative to where they work; more on that in a future blog. 

Businesses, in the main, are being exceptionally flexible and supportive of their remote teams in coping with the pandemic.  There are some businesses that have closed their offices permanently and have no intention of getting a new office for the foreseeable future.  Most businesses are slowly opening up their offices, albeit with significant reductions in occupancy levels to ensure they remain covid-compliant.  These companies are often taking an individual level approach as everyone has a different perception of risk to the current pandemic.   This approach is contrasted by other businesses who are expecting colleagues to come in.  This is a scheduling/management challenge to have different groups of colleagues arriving on different days and starting/leaving at different times which has the potential to erode the face-to-face benefits of being in an office with colleagues. 

Prediction 2: More flexibility

Businesses in general need to improve their flexibility about how, when and where their teams work. If they fail to show flexibility to the new worker demands then they risk losing talent once the employment market recovers. 

I won’t be home for Christmas 

Prediction 3: Christmas sales suffer

Apologies for switching back to full on doom and gloom mode but the way things are going in the UK I think Xmas will effectively be ‘cancelled’.   Christmas is obviously a time for most families to come together but this year it will be very different.  Families will not be coming together in the way that they have traditionally.  I anticipate sales to be supressed at the grocers this Xmas (it will be interesting to see what the tone of their Xmas adverts will be this year) as the traditional seasonal uplift in spend from home family catering will be subdued.  The upside is there is likely to be less food waste! Average spend per household is likely to be down as people tighten their belts in anticipation of continued financial and economic uncertainty. I also anticipate the cost of domestic short-term holiday lets to sky rocket as more people will want to celebrate Christmas within their family bubble in a different setting. 

The Emperor’s New Clothes 

I was having a conversation with a friend the other day about the impact these work changes have had on work attire.  Over the last 5-10 years I have seen a general ‘softening’ of work attire from very formal to smart business casual.  I can’t recall the last time I wore a suit and tie – it was probably for a wedding or a funeral.  This increased working from home has created an entirely new set of work/home combinations.  I have been relatively casual when working from home (particularly in the hot weather), opting for comfort over style.  When I know I have video calls, depending on who with, I will tend to change into smarter attire.  Workers attire has moved from smart formalwear to smart casual workwear (pre-covid), to a wardrobe of casual day wear that they supplement with an occasional smart casual outfit that comes out at video conference call times during the working day.   I am yet to meet someone who has conducted a Zoom call with a full suit, shirt and tie on.  Let’s face it, it’s much easier to quickly change when you only have to modify what you wear from the waist up. 

We have seen the demise of TM Lewin as a result of covid-19 and the other formal wear specialists will certainly be assessing their existing portfolios and product ranging in order to survive.  This will  also have an impact on dry cleaners, as their volumes will reduce across the board as people tend to wear apparel that can be washed at home. 

Prediction 4: Christmas best sellers

Christmas best sellers, particularly catering for middle aged professional males (such as myself), will be a nice selection of casual shirts and polo shirts (with colour coordinated face masks).

Time will tell how we all adapt and how much our lives change to make way for new and hopefully better working practises. 

I’d love to hear what you think the impact of covid will be on our future working patterns. Have you already begun to reassess how you want to work next year?  

Please let us know in the comments below and if you need some advice on how you can stand out from the crowd, get in touch on 07979 756257 or email steve@redtigerconsulting.co.uk 

Photo by Oleg Magni from Pexels

Getting out of your comfort zone

I started this blog pre-lockdown and since then both Steve’s Kilimanjaro and my Mallorca triathlon have been cancelled due to COVID-19. I thought it was still worth publishing anyway (As both Steve and I hope to do these events in 2021).

Recruiters are bound to say that moving roles and “getting out of your comfort zone” is a good thing to do as we would love people to move roles. More frequent job changes obviously means more money for recruiters, but I am honestly writing this without my recruiter hat on and backing this theory up with evidence as you will read below.

The idea of the ‘comfort zone’ goes back to a classic experiment in psychology. Back in 1908, psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson explained that a state of ‘relative comfort’ created a steady level of performance.  In order to maximise performance we need a state of relative anxiety—a space where our stress levels are slightly higher than normal. This space is called “Optimal Anxiety”, and it’s just outside our comfort zone. Too much anxiety and we’re too stressed to be productive, and our performance drops off sharply.

I have also referred to this in other blogs but Maslow’s hierarchy of needs also helps to show how we as humans benefit from getting out of our comfort zone and the top two elements of the hierarchy are covered by this.

Esteem – proving (to yourself) that you can do something that you may not have done before can give you a real feeling of achievement. If you surround yourself with good friends and family, the status and recognition that comes with it is also very rewarding.

Self-actualisation – if you have an element of desire to be the most that one can be then you will also find a challenge helps towards this and find it very rewarding.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of basic needs!

For this blog I will take my recruiter hat off and cover some personal experiences of getting out of your comfort zone (Some career and some non-career examples).

Leaving BT 

I could write a separate blog on this but here is my summary. Having worked at GMAP and then GeoBusiness Solutions I then spent 14 years at BT. I did change roles “fairly often” at BT but in hindsight I should have moved more often (and possibly earlier out of BT). Don’t get me wrong, my time at BT was great (until a few of the later years where I took the wrong career move) but now having been four years out of BT I do not look back.

When I left BT in July 2016, it was a big leap of faith. I was moving from a role that I could almost have had for life (nothing is certain, but BT was pretty much as safe as they come in terms of jobs) to starting a new business in a new area for me. Looking back at my experience, initially I leapt beyond “Optimal Anxiety” due to other pressures. Starting a new career and business and also trying to help care for my mother who had a rapid form of Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and sadly passed away in February 2019.

Coronavirus aside, and with Steve helping me full time on the recruitment for the last year, I feel I am now in the “Optimal Anxiety” space, and this feels great. It’s hard to get that balance and it doesn’t always mean moving roles, but I can really feel a shift in my happiness and work satisfaction within this phase!

Kilimanjaro 

In September 2020 Steve will be embarking on a 8-day trip up Mount Kilimanjaro. Cartilage and ACL injuries from football have taken their toll on Steve’s knees (they hurt more when he walks down-hill) but Steve is now pushing ahead with building up to this challenge.

From my point of view on this trip, the challenge is 2-fold. Firstly, it is about getting the fitness to be able to walk for several hours up-hill (This will involve some challenging climbs in the UK with Snowdon, Scafell, Helvellyn etc lined up). Secondly, and perhaps most challenging and one you cannot fully prepare for, is that of coping with the altitude. Kilimanjaro is 6,000 metres high and at that level your blood saturation (Oxygen content in your blood) decreases to nearly 80%. The plan on this trip is to gradually increase the altitude to allow for the climbers to acclimatise to that level.

The reasons Steve is doing this are 5-fold

  1. Heading towards the big 5-0 and needing to set a big goal for himself.
  2. Wanting a physical challenge (that can accommodate his dodgy knees).
  3. Wanting to test his mental strength – as it’s certainly a case of mind over matter.
  4. Raising some money for causes that are close to him
  5. Mindfulness – Spending 8 days away from the usual stresses of life and not being in a digitally connected world (bit back to nature really)

Even though the Kilimanjaro trip is postponed, Steve is still focused on training and has set a September 2020 date of walking some of the Lake Districts highest hills in mountains to keep focus so he is ready for 2021.

Triathlon

Finally, on to my challenge this year – in October 2021 I will be competing in the Peguera (Mallorca) Triathlon. This will be a 1.9km open-water Swim, 90km bike and 21.1km run (In that order). To date I have done the last of these three disciplines/distances in isolation, but have never done the first two (The most I have swam in one go is 600m and the most I have cycled is 65km), let alone two or three of these one after the other.

I have run three marathons to date and I remember thinking after doing my first 10km race, that I could never ever run a marathon. I then entered a half marathon and started the training by increasing my distance each week by no more than 10%. I got up to 11 miles in training and then did my first half marathon in 1hr 42 minutes. That step up gave me the confidence to try a marathon and so I embarked on training and again increments of 10% each week up to 20 mile training runs. I find with running once you get to a certain level and go through the training it then becomes a habit. I ran my first marathon in 4hrs 20 mins. Gutted that I didn’t get under four hours, I tried again and came in at 3hrs 58 minutes – what a relief! My third marathon I finished in 3hrs 50 minutes and have felt a great sense of achievement at pushing myself, and have also given myself confidence and belief in my ability and potential fitness levels.

Back to the triathlon and my biggest challenge to begin with is the swim – currently two lengths of front crawl and I am done! So I have been taking swimming lessons and 16 weeks in, I can now swim about 15 lengths without stopping. It’s been a real slog as some weeks I feel like I have made progress, and then other weeks I feel like I have taken a step backwards. What I have felt in this process is a real sense of achievement. I do feel as we get older we do like our comfort zones, but rising to a challenge like this has helped give me a real sense of accomplishment with even more to come. I know I have the ability to further improve all three disciplines and viewing and reviewing my Strava from time to time helps to back this up.

Conclusion

Getting out of your comfort zone isn’t just about changing jobs! It is all about trying to find the right balance in your life and a level of stress in your work and non-work elements that keep you motivated and give you higher self-esteem.

Rather than change jobs, it can also be taking on more responsibility or learning new skills. Rather than work related it can be learning a new skill or increasing your exercise for example. We all need an element of self-esteem so anything that can help towards that will help keep your life well balanced and help you maintain that happiness!

I’d love to hear your views on this concept of pushing your boundaries. Do you do this in your work and personal life? What are you doing this year to get our of your comfort zone?

Feature image: Photo by Pixabay from Pexels
Maslows Hierarchy of needs: The Chronic Traveller saved to Self-care and self-love on Pinterest

The Office Home Balance

It’s well documented how important it is to have a work life balance, and that people should work to live rather than the other way around. However, in this new world of greater flexibility and transient working, I have found it increasingly important to get the Office Home balance right.

Change the way you work

Many large organisations are still very much locked into their traditional ways of working, where working one day a week at home is seen as a perk of a job but is still constrained by company culture and more importantly technology limiting people’s ability to be relatively footloose. These companies are consciously making changes but, like any fundamental change in a business with scale, it is like turning the titanic.

office home In smaller, more agile businesses it is the complete opposite – they are not constrained by legacy IT systems, HR policies and the stigma associated with not being visible in the office every day of the week and people saying “working from home again”. They have also swung the pendulum in terms of the environment trying to create a “third space” between home and work with different soft furnishings, collaboration zones, silent pods, mood lighting, foosball tables, modern art, graffitied walls…. the list is endless.

Striking the balance

My working environment and how I go about completing my job have changed significantly over the course of the last ten years. While I welcome not having to be working in a central London office five days a week; striking the balance between always working remotely versus having face to face interactions, collaboration and meetings with my fellow colleagues is essential in successfully getting the job done and team projects delivered. We all know as humans the importance of social interaction; and the varying requirement of that interaction depends on individual needs and goals.

For me becoming a hermit, and dealing with everything remotely, is not a personal aspiration. Nor is it productive in engaging with the right people to support the project in hand, there is a still a requirement for face to face interaction. These different work environments have also made me more productive and I organise my time & workload depending on where I am geographically, and the number of people around me. When I work from home I can focus on more complex analysis and reports in the mornings, and schedule time for calls in the afternoons. Days in the office are very much focused on meetings and creative tasks where I need to pull together various stakeholders, provide leadership updates, present findings etc.

A healthy mix

home office

I always try to avoid five days a week at home or five days a week in the office. It’s the healthy mix of different environments, and changes to the space and people you are working with, which I believe delivers better results more efficiently. I love having my office in my backpack and literally having the ability to fire things up and start working anywhere. Office 365 is one of the game changers with One Notes and One Drive synced to my phone and laptop.

Flexible working is the future, but home working can blur the lines of when you are in work, and when you are not, so here are a few tips for a healthy home working environment:

Establish a work area– which can either be easily cleared away or the door shut at the end of the day.

Get ready for work as if you were heading to the office – Don’t sit in your PJ’s all day and make sure you throw a towel over the Xbox.

Switch the location – maybe head to the library or coffee shop in the afternoon for some background noise and human interaction.

Take regular breaks– Just as you will move around and have different engagements in the office every 90 minutes’ or so walk away from the screen and reset. It’s ok to put washing in the machine.

Interact with others – Either through Skype, phone calls etc. so you are not completely away from the outside world for eight hours. Personally I prefer the afternoons for this.

Make use of Airplane mode and/or close Outlook – don’t get distracted by constant notifications. Switch it off for a while.

Accept the fact you are more productive & focused at home (& don’t feel guilty) – don’t work longer hours due to the fact you are at home.

If I have had three days in a row working from home I am itching to get into the office, likewise after a few days in the office I look forward to an environment change, getting my head down, avoiding distractions and ticking things off the list. A good home office balance can create the ideal working situation.

The Morning Routine

Building on my pre-Christmas blog entitled Switching Off from Work, and achieving that objective in 2018, for 2019 I set myself a new year’s resolution to really plan my days better and more importantly develop a morning routine. We all know new year’s resolutions come and go but as we are nearly into March I can safely say that this new mindset is fully ingrained and I am more productive as a result.

Breaking old habits

morning routineOne of the first things I used to do as soon as I woke up was check my email on my phone – this was before going to the loo, brushing my teeth and making a brew. Those who know me well know I’m an early riser and stick to a rigid gym routine but by checking my emails before going out to exercise I was already in work mode before the day had even begun and it would be hours until my colleagues were getting started with work….this email check was counterproductive as instead of focusing on exercise and relaxation I was mulling over responses and ideas. That was a bad habit and one I could easily break. In the aforementioned blog I mentioned about setting up screen time on your iPhone and locking certain apps out at certain times of the day – the trick is not to select the “allow for 15 minutes” override and be disciplined.

Create a routine

In addition to the email quick win there are a series of strategies I have adopted to make my mornings more productive and overall make my day go better:

1. Set a brief plan the night before

Just before you switch off for the evening spend a few minutes identifying the quick wins and three things you wish to tick off before you open Outlook. These can be simple tasks or more lengthy activities but nothing more than half an hour per activity.  This will give you a sense of accomplishment early on which will help maintain momentum throughout the morning. Before you log off try to prioritise and clean up your inbox on the key things you need to respond to first thing, remembering to switch Outlook to “Work Offline” so when you look in the morning you are not seeing any new stuff.

2. Block time out in the diary

Whether it be for the next day or the week ahead, use Outlook to your advantage by blocking one and two hour slots for major reports or analysis that you need to get done without distractions from others. By doing this people will realise in MS Teams, Skype etc that you are not available and therefore you are not simply slotting the work in between calls and meetings (which results in the project taking longer anyway as you are constantly switching gears and focus).

3. Take a break

I learnt a great trick about productivity a few years ago from The Energy Project. Studies show on average 90 minutes is the most time we should spend on a single activity before we get distracted and productivity wanes. It highlights the importance of taking a quick break to reset and walk away from the screen – make a cup of tea, do some discrete deep breathing (without freaking out your colleagues) or a quick walk. I now do this three times in the morning where possible always at the same time. Use the stopwatch on your phone to get used to this, but over time your will go into autopilot and realise when you need to do a quick reset.

4. Keep a notepad to hand

This will enable you to quickly right down and key ideas you have that you may need to action later.  Don’t be tempted to action them straight away, focus on delivering the plan you set the night before, but by writing down you have downloaded so your brain isn’t worrying about forgetting it.

5. Get rid of notifications

Whether that be Skype, WhatsApp on your desktop, Facebook, Instagram, BBC breaking news etc – if people need something urgently, they will call you. Those constant notifications in the morning and that phone vibrating is a distraction whether you have taken a sneak peek or not….by hearing a ping or a vibrate you know something is going on and therefore it has already taken you attention and subsequent productivity.

Flexible afternoons

It is important to make time for others, and if you have boxed off your most pressing work early, then afternoons become more flexible. Personally (& somewhat selfishly) I am more focused on listening and supporting others when I know I have accomplished my own personal objectives in the morning. I admit I am not great at listening to someone at 9am if I know I have my list of things to do, from mid-morning as well as afternoons I am more attentive, and they get my undivided attention.

Not everyone is a morning person, some people love to burn the midnight oil and are most creative late at night. What is important, is to recognise and read those around you, and adapt your communication and working style to when you both operate at your best. It is easy to flip this routine to make it work for you. There will be days when this structure is not always possible but if you can achieve it more days than those days you don’t then you will find a heightened sense of accomplishment.

Photo: Viktor Hanacek

Switching off from work

The last three months have been a revelation for me as I took the decision six months ago to consciously leave the big corporate world, at least for a while, and make some important lifestyle changes.

Despite a love and passion for my job and company it dawned on me one long-haul flight that although this is something I absolutely loved it wasn’t sustainable, I just never switched off and was constantly connected with work. I had become totally flexible and footloose, travelling across the pond and beyond every few weeks, my life in a small backpack, nothing bigger than 100ml, laptop and my gym trainers swinging from one side.

Over time I had learnt to travel lean and smart and I loved it, it was an adventure. With my laptop and iPhone, combined with the time zones and constantly being away from home meant I could work whenever I wanted to but with my exercising obsession meant I was burning the candle at both ends. On the flip side the fact I did do exercise and my strong belief in its benefits to mental wellbeing, probably kept me going for as long as I did and fortunately I didn’t burn out……but there was always the conscious voice at the back of my mind telling me it could happen.

More connected than ever

It’s not ground-breaking to say that we are more connected than ever and even with the best will in the world it’s hard to truly switch off from work, blurring our personal and professional lives. This blurring is increasing all the time. It has created this expectation of an immediate response, FOMO (fear of missing out) and that work is building up. For me it was compounded, by the fact I worked for an American company, with team members in various time zones. The weeks when I was at home in the UK the mornings were when I was at my best and most creative, I could truly focus…until the US woke up and emails kicked in…. I was hooked, they knew I would respond, and it was a big distraction from getting the work done. Notifications are a killer for productivity; by getting distracted, switching gears can be highly disruptive and it takes longer to do each task. The phenomenon of people getting distracted by mobile phones is increasing.

Does it even matter?

In this ever-connected world does it even matter if we are always switched on with work? Of course, it does, the mental and physical implications are clear…. increased tiredness, fatigue, sleep problems. You are likely to become more stressed and anxious, make poor food choices…. which snowballs into bigger health implications. The key is the frequency of processing and thinking about work and when you should be switched off. That frequency depends on the individual & when you see the signs it is getting too much.  Its about self-awareness and monitoring. Technology is great, its empowering and gives us so much flexibility but it’s how we optimise its use to make our lives better rather than being governed by it.  It’s a personal choice what you want to give your energy to, and it shouldn’t always be a screen. We must be better at self-management by creating boundaries and rules but unfortunately as humans this isn’t one of our core strengths.

Technology can save us!

Phones and haters score boardIronically technology can help, including your smart phone, which has taken the brunt of the blame for this blurring. I love mobile network Three’s latest marketing campaign, which uses #PhonesAreGood  as the tag line and shows Henry VIII swiping left on Tinder, which subsequently saves his wives. For me this isn’t about work / life balance anymore it’s about life.

screen time app

In the Andrews household we have made some conscious decisions. Apple in their latest iOS update have introduced “Screen Time” and for me it really is a blessing…it has given me that nudge that I just wasn’t strong enough to do myself. The only phone function that works after 7pm is receiving calls so I can still be contacted if something really is super urgent with all other notifications coming through after 8am the next day. All other apps you must consciously override the system and even then, access is limited to 15 minutes – the fact it prompts you to override is a great way of stopping yourself.

Despite John Lewis announcing last month they are reducing their alarm clock range by 30% as people use their phones to wake them up in the summer we went retro and purchased one, no longer having to have our phones by our bedsides. I even use Microsoft Teams and One Note to divide my day to achieve all objectives, focusing on specific tasks and not get distracted by notifications. Emails are slowly becoming redundant. Occasionally I will flick on airplane mode for 30 minutes to get something done so the project in hand has my exclusive focus.

Change is good

Building on Steve’s blog earlier this month, “don’t let life get in the way of living” don’t put off your goals and break things down into small objectives. “Switching off” was one of mine for 2018 and I have come a long way in addressing that. I didn’t need to leave a company to achieve this, it was being addressed either way, but it certainly expedited the process. Don’t put off these goals and certainly don’t wait until January each year. Make small conscious decisions which subsequently create a fundamental shift in behaviour and mindset.

If one of your goals is a change in lifestyle and career, then Red Tiger can help. If you would like careers advice or are looking for roles in any of our specialist fields, then get in touch by contacting info@redtiger.co.uk or upload your CV.