Screen savers: time online versus the commute

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Talking to colleagues and connections over the past few weeks about the lifting of restrictions and what that will mean to the way they ‘do’ business and meetings, and the answers have been as varied as the people I have been speaking to.

Prior to the pandemic, many of us used our cars as our occasional office, making calls and responding to emails – sometimes even working on documents and presentations – between meetings, out on the road. I haven’t met any of my clients face-to-face since March 2020 and I’m itching to do so, but the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that face-to-face meetings won’t be totally replacing online meeting in future.

Time to consider

Over the various lockdowns I have had time to think back and reflect on my career management career to date. What I find interesting is that, although I haven’t physically met any of my clients now in over 18 months, I am actually spending much more time with my corporate clients, and those individuals who had been referred to Career Evolution to support during their job search, than I would have done pre-pandemic. Not only that, but I have more time to see more people, and I have carried out job search programmes with many more clients than I ever did previously. I love it, and I have found a part of my role that I’ve been able to formalise into my own job description.

So, what’s changed?

I think that the biggest change is obviously the commuting time. While potentially previously, I could have seen more people, the big reason that I didn’t book in more meetings was that I needed to build in time to take into account the vagaries of potential traffic jams or trains running late. Ensuring that I could get to my meetings on time, meant I could book in a lot less of them, precluding this lovely part of my role.

Preventing Zoom-fatigue

Zoom-fatigue is a real thing, and I too can get ‘zoomed out’.  However, all it needs to make it work is a little bit of careful planning.  In reality, if organisations and individuals are able to plan their time, a simple 10 – 15-minute break between meetings can be really effective.  Meetings don’t have to start on the hour or half-hour, as they so often currently do.

You might think it’s one set of stresses ruling out the other, but compared to navigating off the M6 to find a quicker route when you are stuck at the back of a 10 mile tail back, looking at the clock and hoping that you make it just in time without speeding, then I for one think keeping the Zoom meeting, post-pandemic, is an easier fix!

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Breaking the work cycle – getting the most out of your holiday


It’s that time of year when people’s minds are turning to holidays. Of all the years, 2021 is one where we all deserve one. When you go on holiday – if you can find anywhere to book in this highly-competitive era of UK holidays, or finding a country abroad you’re actually allowed to visit – it’s important that you take the time to switch off and recharge your batteries.

Sometimes this is easy, but often it takes a few days to unwind and feel completely relaxed. This is especially the case if you work for yourself, or run your own business, but is true of anyone, in any walk of life. Getting the most out of your break, in terms of rejuvenation and rest, is after all, why you’re going on holiday. Otherwise, you might as well just be working from another location.

Off and on again

Everyone’s different when it comes to relaxing. Some people love reading a book by the pool or on the beach, while others enjoy something more energetic, such as a clifftop hike, or sailing, or surfing. Doing an activity, in particular, can occupy your mind and take your concentration elsewhere and away from work. Some people are advocates of completely turning everything off, while others take a laptop ‘just to keep an eye on things and in case of emergencies’.

But having the opportunity to do work can sometimes mean you end up doing some.  If you have a team back at the office, they can surely hold the fort for a week, can’t they? But also, if the worst happened, and an emergency arose and needed to be dealt with, there are some times when a mobile phone with an internet connection just isn’t enough. It’s a fine balance between going on holiday with peace of mind, that you have left no loose ends, and abandoning ship and hoping for the best.

Very remote working

Of course, for many people part of the appeal of a holiday is the fact that they can get away from everything and everyone, and work can’t intrude at all. This can be helped by the location – parts of Scotland and Cornwall, for example, are notorious for their lack of phone signal, which for many is part of their appeal. Not having the option to work certainly ensures none gets done, but equally there’s no point going on holiday fretting about what’s going on back home.

It can also be tricky finding a spot in the year to take time off that ensures you truly have a work-free holiday. Some of my colleagues in HR have mentioned that in these unusual times, with working from home, or returning to the office, or the job’s market picking up again, it has taken all their energy to keep up with their workload. And as things return to normal, time constraints and schedules are only going to get busier.

Rest and relaxation

But it’s important both to get that time off and to make it count.  Even if you find you are still catching up on work whilst you are away, hopefully you will find that the division of being in a different place or country, breaks the mental link and allows you to enjoy yourself too. It is vital that you have the opportunity to reset your mind and fully appreciate and benefit from the welcome break.

I am currently on holiday in Scotland, and I’m enjoying the opportunity to spend some time away from work (writing this article doesn’t count!), though I must admit I have obviously taken my laptop with me. But because of where we are  – our usual trip to Scotland – and what we are doing – walking and sightseeing – the laptop is a prudent precaution, rather than a necessity…

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Home working and family life

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Even as the UK government begins to lift restrictions that affect all aspects of our lives, it seems that ‘work from home’ (WFH) is here to stay. Although the actual directive ‘work from home of you can’ is about to be revised, many firms have found that they have been able to work more efficiently during WFH. Such aspects as time saved for commuting and money saved on commuting and shopping during the working week have seen staff think differently about how they should be carrying out their jobs. They have also seen how much better their work-life balance can be, if a hybrid part-WFH, part-office-based model is adopted in the future.

But working from home is not a natural state of living for many people. For example, if you work in a house with other members of your family that may be home schooling or on school holidays, or if they are doing their own jobs from home, then it’s not always as easy to be as productive as in an office –  away from the myriad distractions and your ‘normal life’.

Positive family impacts

So how does your working at home affect your family? Often it can be in a very positive way. Some clients have mentioned to me that their working from home has made other people realise how difficult their job was, or how many meetings they had each day. As all this is taking place within four walls at home – no traveling to meetings, all calls taken at home – there’s no way of disguising the fact that if you’re busy, you’re busy. Because an office job formerly happened ‘behind closed doors’ to your family life, no amount of explaining could fully define what your working day was. Now they can see it for themselves.

Unconscious signals

Even working from home, you need to try and keep your work life and home life as completely separate entities where you can. We don’t always realise how family and partners absorb the unconscious signals and information we are putting out. I’ve found this can be especially noticeable with younger members of the family. I was thinking about this in relation to my youngest son, when he started asking me when he was about 10, “How many people have you helped to get a job today?” The fact that he even acknowledges what my job entails is interesting in itself, but also that he understands that I am helping people to find employment as part of my own day-to-day life.

I have also heard him comment: “You like your work. My friend’s parents moan a lot when they get home from work.” Again, this is very gratifying that he has taken on board what I am doing and that I am enjoying it. His comment also highlights another aspect of WFH of course – that for many people going to an office every day is actually a welcome distraction from home life and it’s not always seen as a an ideal. And that their children have noticed this too. That cut-off of leaving work every day for many is a vital part of their lives. However, I think I may have gone too far and my son has been listening to me too much when he said he’d applied to be a Junior Road Safety Officer at the age of seven – because he says it would look good on his CV…

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Next steps: what the end of furlough means for HR

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After 30 September, the furlough scheme will cease. This is going to have an impact on both employers and employees, and will make them think about what their business will look like going forward. Some have argued that the scheme has artificially supported businesses that were already struggling, while others have pointed out that the economy as a whole has, and will continue, to benefit from the initiative in the long-term. Hopefully, companies can simply bring their staff back as normal and business will pick up again. But not all companies are in as good a shape financially as they were before the pandemic and bringing all their staff back might not be an option.

Unemployment spike predicted

Economists are predicting that there will be an inevitable spike in unemployment after the end of September – and HR professionals should be prepared for their companies to think long and hard about what resources are actually needed in the present economic climate. The winding-up of furlough will remove this false sense of security that is present in the economy at the moment. It’s impossible to accurately chart how the economy is doing, or indeed predict how it will recover – both post-Covid and post-furlough. And it’s also difficult to pinpoint with any accuracy the UK’s current unemployment figures or get an accurate snapshot of the jobs market. All these unknowns are creating uncertainty for economists and business managers alike.

The shape of things to come

As ‘normal’ returns and people return to work, HR professionals will need to start looking at the structures in their own organisations. The big question is: will they need to bring everybody back? There have been some significant changes to the way offices function during lockdown, with remote working being implemented for many people. HR will have to look both at the people required to carry out the work but also in relation to the office space the company has available. If you’re adopting a hybrid model of working – with flexible home and office placement – then you’re not going to need as much office space all the time.

The value of outplacement

At times like these, outplacement advice is extremely valuable, when people are already feeling vulnerable and wondering what the future holds for them post-furlough. So, talking to an experienced consultant can help allay fears and give employees focus on where their future direction may be.

With so many different predictions of the landscape of employment, it’s impossible to predict what happens next. But looking at the overview now and preparing various HR scenarios could give your company an advantage, when the inevitable happens and furlough ends.

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