By Christine Brown-Quinn and Aoifinn Devitt
As lockdowns are eased and workplace restarts loom, the pressing question is how to thrive in a changed workplace. Governor Andrew Cuomo perhaps described the unprecedented economic shutdown best when he referred to New York City as being “on pause”. It sounded so innocuous and so temporary, as if once the pause was released we would resume our frenetic pace of life, the music would resume and the dance would go on.
It’s becoming increasingly clear this will not be the case. While our cities paused, we witnessed a transformation of our norms, our familiar habits, and our personal interactions. The shift to digitization of work and remote individual working hubs has accelerated at an unimaginable speed, and although sudden, has been remarkably smooth.
But as work proceeds, largely remotely, we might wonder whether the way we work will ever be the same again. While change has been a constant over the past decade, it is now an absolute certainty. What mindset will it take to thrive amid this uncertainty and ambiguity? While many of us have been able to do our jobs from home, can we build a career there or will our prior ambitions be thwarted?
In general, embracing change requires an eagerness to grow, learn and explore alternative ways of doing things. Carol Dweck’s research on fixed versus growth mindset suggests that individuals with a growth mindset are better able to take risks, work through challenges and setbacks, and continue to address weaknesses in a consistent manner. The literature highlights the importance of openness to learning and cites the transformative effect that making an effort can have.
Let us assume for a moment that individuals with a growth mindset, and who hire a team in this vein, will be better equipped to adapt to a new work reality post Covid-19. We then need to ask what the longer- term impact on their mindset might be, having lived through the trauma of a pandemic. The current crisis is unlike the 2008 Global Financial Crisis in that its root cause is a threat to our person – our physical health and that of our loved ones.
Every day we are faced with new risks and forced to weigh up vague probabilities as we decide how best to deal with them. It is not just our work future, but our daily, personal interactions that are threatened and changed indefinitely. Some researchers have identified a correlation[AD1] between early-life disruption and risk aversion. In a 2019 study, which examined the impact of early-life family disruption such as divorce of the death of a parent on fund managers, those who had experienced such disruption were shown to take lower downside systematic and idiosyncratic risk.
A further study showed that the effect of early life exposure to disasters could have a non-monotonic impact on corporate risk-taking – depending on the intensity of this experience, perhaps how viscerally it was felt, and how proximate it was. The greater the intensity of the trauma the greater the risk aversion. The lower the intensity of the trauma, the greater the risk appetite.
This is early life, however, and may have implications for future generations, but how about the impact of this trauma on today’s professionals who are very much mid-life? Well-being expert Dr. Lucy Hone suggests that resilient adults accept death, disasters, illnesses as part of ‘normal’ life rather than the exception, enabling them to ‘get on with it’ rather than wallow in a ‘why me’ victim mentality.
At this stage it is perhaps too early to know the true impact of the current trauma as we remain in firefighting and survival mode, and don’t yet know the shape our new work lives will take. Here are three key steps you can take today, however, to prepare yourself for effectively navigating this virtual new normal:
Claim Your Career – You are the one who has to drive your career. It’s not the responsibility of your manager, the HR department or your mentor. This has always been the case, but in the midst of this change and chaos, it’s imperative. The upside is no one has been here before. It’s a unique opportunity for you to be strategic and think about how best to align your skills and talents to the needs and demands of your department, organization and industry.
Prime Your Personal Brand – Given where you want to go, how do you want others to perceive you? This virtual environment and new way of working is an opportunity to enhance your brand further. Be intentional about how you want to come across not only in your written communications but also on video and audio-only calls. With your goals in mind, who are the people who need to ‘see’ you? Virtual environments can make it easier to access senior individuals, who in an office environment might be surrounded by gate keepers.
Nourish Your Network – People are your greatest resource when it comes to getting visibility to other parts of the organization, as well as understanding your organization’s strategic focus and priorities. With your preferred career direction in mind, reach out to others in your network who are most relevant. Ask others for referrals to individuals who aren’t in your network, but should be. Networking is your bridge to tomorrow. The time to connect is now. Pre-frame your conversation as a virtual coffee or virtual catch-up so that the conversation can be relaxed, free flowing, yet guided by your thoughtful questions and comments.
Given the pace of change, waiting until we’re back to ‘normal’ will likely thwart your career development and progression. Consider ways to take advantage of the virtual medium rather than see it as an obstacle for moving your agenda forward. The question isn’t whether virtual working will continue post COVID-19, but rather to what degree it will play a role. The principles for navigating your career are the same albeit the environment and tools have now been firmly extended to include the virtual world.
About the Authors
Christine Brown-Quinn is Owner & Founder of the career consultancy The Female Capitalist® & Author of Unlock Your Career Success: Knowing the Unwritten Rules Changes Everything, an Amazon #1 Best Seller in Business & Finance. As a former Managing Director in International Finance, Christine shares practical, hands-on business strategies for career progression and work-life balance.
Aoifinn Devitt is Head of Investment-Ireland at the international business of Federated Hermes. She has spent two decades working in a range of roles in institutional asset management and has a particular interest in the factors that determine risk-appetite and resilience among fund managers. The views expressed herein are personal.
 Dweck, C. S. Mindset: The New Psychology Of Success. New York : Ballantine Books, 2008. Print.
 Betzer, A., Limbach, P., Rau, P. R., & Schürmann, H. (2019). Till death (Or divorce) do us part: Early-life family disruption and fund manager behavior. SSRN Electronic Journal. https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3353686
 Bernile, G., Bhagwat, V., & Rau, P. R. (2017). What doesn't kill you will only make you more risk‐loving: Early‐life disasters and CEO behavior. The Journal of Finance, 72(1), 167-206. https://doi.org/10.1111/jofi.12432
 Brown-Quinn, C, Unlock Your Career Success: Knowing the Unwritten Rules Changes Everything, Rethink Press 2020