Navigating The Next Normal

03.06.2020

With the end of lockdown finally insight we got together with a few members of the network to discuss concerns and hopes for life after lockdown and to reflect on how this period of rapid change had affected our working habits and career goals.

The hour-long session was co-hosted by Founder of The Future is ND Lucy Hobbs and Prof Amanda Kirby of Do-IT Solutions and broken down into break out rooms of pairs and 3-4 people, with an open discussion at the end. The summary below provides some more information on the activities, as well as the key learnings we took away from the event.

 

Exercise 1: Our lockdown lives

To kick things off, the participants split off into breakout rooms in randomly allocated pairs to introduce themselves and share their current situations. A discussion with all participants followed, and a few key themes emerged:

– All in quite different situations: some furloughed, some continuing in an established WFH routine, others WFH for the first time. Some sharing their space with their partners and families, others alone or in flatshares.

– Some feelings of loneliness, adaptation, some trying new things, some balancing managing children and work. A theme of time for reflection and what is important.

 

Exercise 2: Life after lockdown

Next, in groups of 3 or 4 we discussed our main concerns about post-lockdown life. Here, the themes were quite universal:

-Most NDs liked the current, more flexible arrangements more than their previous one and were hoping for more of the same, such as the option to work from home, when offices re-open.

-Some are optimistic that workplaces will be more willing to adapt now new practices have been shown to work, others less so.

-Many participants said they were concerned and some are quite anxious about the availability of work post-lockdown, with some furloughed employees unsure if they’ll have a job to go back to. Freelancers are more worried about existing work drying up, or that new clients or contracts will be harder to come by if the predicted recession is as severe as anticipated.

 

Exercise 3: Lockdown learnings

The next question put to participants was “what have you learned about yourself in lockdown?”

Groups of 3-4 got together to discuss what has surprised us about our abilities and resilience during the lockdown, and what we might take away from the experience as we return to the next ‘new normal’. Some strong themes emerged, including:

-Finding new independence: those who were used to an office environment were generally surprised at how well they were able to cope with working autonomously, and this had given them newfound confidence.

-Adaptability to new situations: while many felt initial unease about the sudden shift into a very different working environment, some NDs reported that they had not only found the transition easier than expected but that the change of pace and scenery had been good for their creativity and productivity.

-Some ADHDers found that the narrowing of available options that lockdown had imposed on them was actually helpful as it reduced distractions. This made it easier to focus on learning new skills or getting into projects they’d been putting off or unable to progress in the past.

-It had allowed for a time for reflection for some, about thinking about what work they really wanted to do

 

Exercise 4: what’s next?

We paired up again to talk about where we saw our careers going after lockdown and our hopes for the future. This time there was one strong, common theme: almost all participants spoke about wanting to move their careers in a more fulfilling direction, perhaps drawing on interests or passions they had identified or rediscovered during the lockdown period. Side hustles and projects seemed to be as important as ‘day jobs’.

It seems that this period of change has been an opportunity for many of us to re-evaluate our situations, and there is no hurry to get back to the status quo.

 

Discussion

Following our more intimate breakout rooms, we had a more of an open discussion at the end with all 17 participants

We shared hopes of inclusive design and choice becoming the new normal. Being natural disrupters, we could see this time as an opportunity to shine and use our strengths to be more creative and innovative in finding better and more productive ways of working.

We could see the future office space becoming more of a community space rather than a working space, where teams can cut across boundaries and make new connections.

There was a strong sense that the new situation was a great leveler, that some NDs were thriving with the lack of the usual work-related sensory challenges, distractions, and social stresses and distractions whereas NTs were struggling more with the change and their masks slipping.

We wondered if it would be possible to hold in-person meetings outside in nature until social distancing rules are more relaxed, a good option for those that thrive with more social interaction, and are feeling cut off.

We discussed how we can use the opportunity of lockdown to our advantage and gather proven evidence of more productive ways of working along with the equality act, and go and knock on minister’s doors to make real lasting change.

 

Words by Abi Silvester