How to keep your career on track during the coronavirus

One of the many downsides of working remotely (along with hearing my neighbors move furniture around daily and forgetting what real pants feel like) is that it can feel harder to maintain the momentum of your career.

Our clients ramped up their publishing cycles in response to the pandemic. As a result, 2020 has been a busy and hectic year, and, naturally, professional development has fallen to the wayside. I’ve had little time to think about where I’d like to be one year from now, never mind five. And while my superiors are really good about being available and thoughtful about all of our career paths, it’s simply harder to provide mentorship from a distance. Indeed, Andy Eichfeld, an executive at Discover, points out how difficult remote work can be for young workers in this New York Times article, saying, “A younger person needs apprenticeship in the first 10 or 15 years of their career. . . .I’m not sure apprenticeship happens remotely.”

Over the past several months, however, I have found a few tactics that give me a sense of purpose and direction in my professional development.

Find projects that have been sitting on the shelf

Remember that idea you (or a colleague) had that was so awesome . . . and then no one did anything about it? Find one that interests you and assign it to yourself. For example, my role recently changed to focus more on content strategy, and I wanted more experience in that area. So I took it upon myself to analyze Leff’s Strategy Studio competitors and develop a set of recommendations for marketing ourselves more effectively.

It might be challenging to fit these projects within the parameters of your already busy workday. But directing yourself to explore, learn, and try new approaches can be freeing and is almost guaranteed to be beneficial. And, of course, giving yourself a deadline is always a good idea.

If those projects don’t come to mind immediately, think about processes in your company that people always say, “We’ll fix it when . . .” and be the person who provides a concrete solution.   

Make the most of interactions with mentors

Another way to continue growing, and one that requires very little time, is to make the most of your time with mentors. If you don’t regularly engage with them organically, consider asking a manager or other senior-level colleague to have informal monthly one-on-one meetings. Come prepared with items to discuss, think about what your interests or goals are, and ask for their advice and insight.

Be straight: ask them directly what areas in your work could use more of your attention. Don’t wait until year-end reviews to get feedback. And, of course, once you get advice—do something with it.

Be open to learning outside of work

I recently starting virtually volunteering as a tutor for English-language learners twice a week. Although my reasons for volunteering were not for professional gain, I’m quickly realizing how much this relationship applies to my current role and beyond.

Teaching in this setting requires clear, simple, and direct communication. Editing thought leadership requires similar skills—breaking down complex business problems into easily digestible and direct prose.

And lesson planning is a crash course in strategy and creative thinking. I have a teacher’s manual and workbooks, but once you start to understand a student’s learning style and areas for improvement, a lesson plan becomes an opportunity to test new approaches. Does the logic of how I’m presenting material make sense? Or am I filling in gaps in my own head as a native English speaker? These are the same questions we ask when constructing a narrative: does the story flow logically, and will people who are not experts in this industry understand?

What I’ve come to realize is that nearly every opportunity to learn and stretch will be beneficial not just personally but also professionally.

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During a time when life can seem both stagnant and stressful, it’s nice to find places where I can exert some control and see a path forward.  

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