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Career management 2021: What's changed in the past year

Rhymer Rigby shared advice for how to deal with co-workers’ annoying habits and how to succeed in remote meetings in previous FM podcasts. This episode is the conclusion of a three-part conversation with Rigby, a regular career contributor to FM. He responds to questions about how career management has changed since the onset of COVID-19, how recruiting without boundaries can be good (with one potentially big exception: pay), and how we can build perseverance.

What you’ll learn from this episode:

  • Rigby’s prediction of the biggest challenges for employees in the coming months.
  • How the pandemic has accelerated several trends in remote work.
  • Why a “London weighting” for some jobs may disappear or diminish.
  • Why now may be the time to learn a new skill.
  • How we can work on interpersonal skills when we might rarely see people face-to-face.

Play the episode below or read the edited transcript:


To comment on this episode or to suggest an idea for another episode, contact Neil Amato, an
FM magazine senior editor, at Neil.Amato@aicpa-cima.com.


Transcript:

Neil Amato: Thanks for tuning in to the FM magazine podcast. I’m FM senior editor Neil Amato. Today’s episode is the last of my three-part conversation with FM career contributor Rhymer Rigby. We will post links to the previous two parts in the show notes on fm-magazine.com/podcast. Today, Rhymer and I discuss career management and how it’s different in the year 2021.

A return guest on the FM podcast, Rhymer Rigby. As we get into 2021, one thing I think people are wondering is, what’s my career going to look like? It’s a new world. Is there career advice that might have worked in, say, January 2020 that is now irrelevant?

Rhymer Rigby: Yeah, I was thinking about this, actually. I think probably the biggest challenge is going to be simply economic rather than necessarily careers related. Both the US and the UK have seen considerable rises in unemployment, but government injections of money have kept unemployment relatively low. If we have a big spike in unemployment, that is going to be huge. That will probably be the biggest challenge, sort of unemployment levels last seen in the 1980s or early 1990s.

What about careers advice? That’s quite interesting because I think in some ways, what the pandemic has done has massively accelerated a lot of trends that were already in progress, from remote working to sort of being digitally present, to flexible working, to all that kind of stuff. Typically, in terms of remote working, we famously saw about a decade’s worth of progress in six months.

I think you need to be flexible, you need to be agile, you need to be tech savvy, and you kind of need to be prepared for anything, which would be good advice generally, but is probably better advice [now]. As we come out of the pandemic, it will be very interesting to see — a lot of people have predicted the new normal will mean vast numbers of people working permanently from home.

I personally think this might be slightly sort of wish fulfilment on behalf of a lot of people who rather like working from home, and that they will discover that the more ambitious people go back to the office and so they go back, too — a larger number of people than is predicted go back to the office. I think that could be one big thing.

I think people also might see all sorts of other interesting things. I wrote something a while ago on how people who have had expensive commutes into cities like London and New York and San Francisco have enjoyed saving thousands of dollars on their commutes. I think they might discover that if they’re permanently working from home somewhere two hours outside a city, companies say, “Hey, your weighting for working in this city — if you’re not working in the city, I’m not going to pay [weighting] anymore. It’s great that you can do your job from the middle of Colorado or Scotland or whatever, but I’m not paying you a London or San Francisco weighting.”

I think we could see a lot of sort of interesting things like this that people haven’t necessarily thought about. And that coupled with probably what’s going to be quite a tougher jobs market might make people rather doing more of what companies tell them than they perhaps expect.

Amato: I have been following kind of those geographic changes. You’re able to hire someone from anywhere. You might be in the state of Michigan and working for a tech company in the Bay Area of the US, but you might not get paid as much because you’re not working on-site. It could be very interesting.

Rigby: Exactly. You could be renting an apartment in San Francisco. You rent an apartment in some city in Michigan, which is a fifth of the price.

Amato: In that earlier answer, you mentioned “tech savvy” as a skill. If you previously had an office job that was kind of low-tech and you consider yourself kind of a tech luddite and it’s like, “I don’t want to deal with technology. I don’t like it,” and now you’re kind of forced to — any advice for those people other than, “Well you’re just going to have to deal with it”?

Rigby: I think unfortunately, yes, you are just going to have to deal with it. I think companies are not entirely insensitive. If you take the initiative and you say, “I’m not great on working on collaborative platforms. I’d really like some training,” I think your company probably would see that as a good thing. They always say people are afraid to ask for help, but what bosses and other people really like —everyone loves being asked for help. It’s incredibly flattering if I say, “Neil, I don’t understand this. Could you explain it to me?” So actually, I think ask for help is one really good thing. I suspect these people have probably been forced somewhat to at least engage with video technology and other remote working technology. So yeah, I don’t think there is much of a choice, if I can be honest.

I guess there are other skills, too. People are always talking about change. We’ve all had to embrace change at an incredible rate, and it’s quite good for us. Sometimes it makes you realise that actually your job wasn’t great or actually you were stuck in a rut and things are better or more interesting.

Even people who are made redundant often find that actually it’s not too bad of a thing if you’re made redundant with a decent payoff. It will often lead to you doing something that you probably should have done years ago. We have seen this in past recessions, although it’s been a while since we had a higher unemployment recession. I mean, 2008 wasn’t really that bad and even 2000 wasn’t really that bad unless you happened to work in the tech sector.

Amato: Job loss is a risk for still a lot of people. But beyond that, are there other significant career risks that workers should be thinking about this year?

Rigby: Yeah, I think if you were thinking of moving company, it may not be the greatest time to do it. People are unlikely to be recruiting if they are also making large numbers of people redundant, although it’s possible. You may be able to find, there are some sectors — Amazon has done very well out of it, the pandemic.

A lot of the sort of online grocers have done pretty well out of it. Some sectors of entertainment have done very well and, strangely, books have done very well. That’s an old-fashioned industry that has had a great year. I know the UK publisher Bloomsbury has had a kind of record year this year. I think you just — if you were going to move, you need to look harder. You probably just want to keep your job.

I guess I’ll say you want to be resilient. You want to be flexible. You probably want to work on doing the best you can and developing new skills, which is sort of always true, but the pandemic has accelerated a lot of preexisting trends.

Amato: I think you led well into my next question, which is — you need to build your skills. Are there ways that you can kind of demonstrate yourself as an expert?

Rigby: I think if you want to build your skills, the great advice is always sort of just how often you work. If you are underworked, ask for new projects. Ask for stuff like that. No boss will ever hate you for that.

In terms of building your new skills, we’ve already talked about tech. You might say, “I really want to understand this. Can you send me on a course, or can I get some training?” I think that is a good way of doing it. You also might just look at your company and identify new areas you want to go into.

We were talking about networking. I think one quite good thing is that networking in some ways used to be harder if you wanted to network outside your immediate circle, but now everyone is doing it digitally for obvious reasons.

So perhaps it’s easier to sort of cold-approach someone in a different department or perhaps three or four levels up from you and say, “I’m really interested in opportunities in this area. How do I go about it? Can you give me any advice?”

Again, it’s just a feeling. You’re saying, “I’m interested. I’d like your help and your advice.” People will still help you. They’re flattered that you’re asking them because you’re sort of recognising them as an expert.

Amato: There’s a lot of talk about people working from home and not spending time on a commute. We mentioned the commutes being cut off. They’re finding new activities. They’re maybe building skills, maybe taking up gardening, and that’s a good thing for sure.

But the long haul of dealing with COVID-19, at least at the time of this recording, it doesn’t appear to be going away. What advice would you give people on this skill: How does someone build perseverance? How do they keep picking themselves up off the mat?

Rigby: I think that is a really good question because even though I have worked from home for 20 years, the fun stuff in my life like going to restaurants and going to the pub and hanging out with my friends has all gone.

I think one really important thing is not to trade your long commute for an extra two hours working. We’ve already said that you’re basically — you don’t want to become sort just digitally present and on the whole time. Why would you spend those two hours working for your company?

You need to be very careful of being constantly available, constantly checking your emails. You need to be quite strict with yourself. I guess if you have a family, spend time with them. Go for walks. It’s not about you. You have to get through it. Remind yourself of the good things you have. Learn something new.

It’s sort of interesting, I never watched that much TV before because I grew up in the ’70s where people were a bit snotty about TV and I always sort of internalised that it was a bit of a waste of my time. But now, I have a lot of time to waste, so I’ve got quite into some really good television. I think you could do that. Yes, learn a new skill. Find a hobby in perhaps a slightly old-fashioned way. Teach yourself a new language.

It’s kind of a good time to sort of self-improve, I suppose. It looks like we now have vaccines on the horizon. Although it won’t be instant, things probably will start to improve fairly soon. Given this is no longer quite as open-ended as it is, enjoy this sort of enforced time you have. Meditate, take up yoga. Anything you want.

Amato: How does someone work on interpersonal skills when they are not seeing many people in person?

Rigby:  That is a really good question and I think that goes back to what we were saying about not sort of hiding digitally. If you are, for instance, anxious about something, pick up the phone and talk to your boss. I think you need to make as many kind of touch points as possible without being ridiculous or needy, obviously. But make those phone calls. And as I say, not just to your boss, but to your colleagues and to people like that.

If you do have opportunities to meet people — particularly if you live in a city, you could still sort of meet outside, perhaps for a walk or something like that, 2 metres apart or whatever it is, or 6 feet apart in the US — you should do that. I sometimes meet a friend/colleague after dropping my kids off. We just walk around the park and it’s great. It reminds me that there’s life out there.

Amato: To sum up, what skills would you say that people should prioritise in the year ahead?

Rigby: I think you are going to have to be resilient because it’s not going to be easy. For a lot of people, I think we haven’t seen quite the really hard stuff yet because, as I say, there has been a lot of government support for stuff, and we haven’t paid for any of it in taxes yet. So yeah, I think it could be a pretty tough year, so work on your resilience.

Then, I guess you probably need to work on your adaptability, your flexibility, ability to change — whatever you want to call it. Things are going to continue changing at the speeds they have this year. Who knows what the world is going to look like in 12 months’ time? I think you need to be adaptable, embrace change, all that stuff. I guess the last one is probably digital skills. Keep working on those. There are undoubtedly others that I’m sure somebody could make a strong case for three completely different ones, but those would be mine.

Amato: Rhymer, thank you very much.

Rigby: Thank you for having me on.