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Reshaping Your Career in the Wake of the Pandemic

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The pandemic has been an experiment like no other: a vehicle to understand what we need to thrive in our jobs. The authors identify three key aspects of work that the pandemic has impacted and which — if you approach them thoughtfully and strategically — can help you reshape your career successfully for the future.

Over the past year, we’ve all heard that we should be preparing for the “new normal” — but what that means or when this will start is unclear. During the pandemic, some professionals had to put their career aspirations on the back burner as they dealt with unexpected health care or childcare responsibilities, and many others may have felt their hard-fought career progression stall because of unpredictable outside forces, including company and industry disruptions.

It’s clearly too soon to declare an end to the pandemic. But as vaccination takes hold and at least some countries and regions begin to open up, we remain hopeful about the potential changes on the horizon. Now is a useful time to begin asking yourself how to take back control over your career. (Indeed, in our own research, we found that an opportunistic mindset is one of the foundational traits underlying entrepreneurial talent.)

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As we move into hybrid offices and hybrid professional identities, we’re entering what social scientists call a “liminal” moment — the (sometimes uncomfortable) “in-between” phrase when you’re exiting a previous way of being and entering another. That creates uncertainty, but also opportunity. We’ve identified three key aspects of work that the pandemic has impacted and which — if you approach them thoughtfully and strategically — can help you reshape your career successfully for the future.

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The Manner in Which We Work

One thing we all learned this year, after being forced to adapt to specific ways of working, is how we best work. The pandemic has been an experiment like no other: a vehicle to understand what we need to thrive in our jobs, and what mode of working is best suited for our temperament.

Some professionals have thrived in a remote work environment and never want to go back. Others miss the social company of their colleagues and, gripped by loneliness, recognize that office life suits them well. The pandemic certainly validated the feasibility of virtual work — and once a privilege (as remote arrangements used to be seen) has been granted, they’re very hard to take away. Meta-analytic studies have long shown that remote work is mostly beneficial — improving not just productivity and job satisfaction, but also family relations — or neutral. We can expect this to improve even more, thanks to both increased technological resources and a cultural readiness to accept that workplace results matter more than one’s location.

That means, in many professions, it’s likely you’ll have far more freedom moving forward to shape, and maybe even control, the terms by which you’ll work. In Dorie’s forthcoming book The Long Game, she shares the story of Annmarie Neal, a successful HR executive who for more than 25 years — even pre-pandemic — managed to convince her employers to let her work from a small town in the Colorado mountains. She’d ask potential employers, “’Do you want to hire the best person for the role, or the best person in your zip code?’” Post-Covid, many more employees will be in a position to pose that same question.

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The Company and Leaders We Work For

Crises are often the truest test of leadership: under great pressure, good leaders excel, whereas bad leaders have nowhere to hide. During the pandemic, many people have learned new things about their boss and the senior leadership of their company. Did they treat their employees fairly and with respect? How did they navigate uncertainty? Did they prioritize the short-term or the long-term?

Armed with this new information, once employees feel the pandemic has stabilized, it’s likely we’ll see accelerated job turnover that may have been deferred for the past year. (One study suggests that close to half of employees would quit if a hybrid option isn’t granted, for instance.) Given companies’ increased openness to virtual arrangements, employees’ options will also increase, because they’re not limited by physical proximity. More than ever, you’ll now have the opportunity to identify companies that share your values and potentially join forces with them, regardless of geography.

Our Professional Networks

The past year has also taught us whom we can rely on. Which coworkers stepped up to help you when you were facing personal challenges, or were staring down a major deadline? Which made the effort to stay connected, and which reverted to a purely transactional relationship, only getting in touch when they needed something from you? As we slowly return to in-person work and travel, our relationships are also likely to change, and we’ll have a better sense of whom we want to bring closer in our lives, and whom we should deprioritize because they’ve proven themselves to be less caring or less reliable than we previously thought.

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Additionally, after a year of isolation in which it’s been much harder to meet new people, it’s likely that many professionals are hungry to build new connections. If you make the effort to organize networking events — whether virtual or in-person (where safe and possible) — you’ll likely reap disproportionate benefits by dint of being an ‘early mover’ as people slowly begin to feel comfortable congregating again. This includes building a reputation as a ‘connector’ and perhaps gaining access to interesting or prominent people that otherwise may have been hard to access because — quite simply — there is a dearth of other invitations for the time being. This is a liminal moment for relationships, as well, and provides a unique opportunity both to solidify deeper ties with trusted colleagues and to expand your overall network dramatically.

In short, there’s a very real possibility that, thanks to the greater flexibility and opportunities enabled by the crisis, far more professionals may have the opportunity to craft work and careers they truly enjoy. As Antonio Gramsci, the great political theorist once noted, a “crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” The past year has been challenging and discomfiting in so many ways — but we’re optimistic that it might yet give birth to something new, and better.

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