15 December 2020
By: Éric Donahue

Professional Development in a Pandemic

Professional development is generally associated with obtaining a senior position in the organization or with succession programs. However, professional development has taken a different form resulting from the global upheaval caused by the pandemic. For most of us, the events of the last few months have led us to make significant changes in our daily lives. Some of us have been able to cope, while others are still struggling to get their heads above water. One thing is certain: this situation has changed the organization of work and the way companies do business. Overnight, managers and employees have had to revise their operating methods and advocate telework. As a result, this pushed people to develop some of their skills to face this new reality.
Here are a few important skills to develop that allow for an easier transition in difficult situations over which we have no control.

1. Adaptability
This is the most important skill of all. People who master this skill can quickly and effectively adapt their ways and behaviours to any situation. They adjust their way of thinking when the traditional approach no longer works. For example, many restaurateurs have had to adjust quickly by offering take-out meals when they did not before the pandemic. Some even offer artisans the opportunity to display their products in the empty dining room during the holiday season, while the restaurateur offers pies, pasta, and Christmas meal deliveries. People who master this skill are also generally more creative and maintain a positive attitude when unexpected events occur.
Here are some tips for developing this skill:

  • Get in the habit of getting out of your comfort zone. Start gradually to build your confidence.
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You will be able to learn from them and it will be easier to adapt when you face a similar situation.
  • See change in a positive light and as an opportunity for professional growth.

2. Problem Resolution.
The current situation has brought a wind of change to the way we work, but it has also brought its share of problems. People who have mastered this skill have been able to understand the problems they face, identify the underlying causes, and quickly find appropriate solutions to remedy them. For example, teleworking was for many the most effective solution to enable organizations to continue operations in times of pandemic. However, implementing this mode of operation for all employees in such a short period of time has been a challenge for many organizations. In addition, the appropriation of technological equipment was for many a novelty that created many problems. For example, all the face-to-face training sessions, which had to take place virtually, required a large, quick turnaround, even for client-participants (such as use of a new application and its functionalities, exercises in “breakout rooms”, very different and fewer spontaneous interactions, etc.). Congratulations to all the IT teams who invested considerable effort and outstanding problem-solving to facilitate this transition.
Here are a few tips for developing this skill:

  • Take the time to carefully analyze all the elements and gather relevant information about the problem before decision-making.
  • Develop more than one solution. This will allow you to have a back-up solution if the first one doesn’t work. In addition, the best solution is often a combination of several elements.
  • Make sure that the solutions you put in place are effective. Adjust them if necessary.

3. Autonomy / Discipline.
Overnight, many of us were forced to work full time from home. For some, home is more often associated with family, relaxation, and leisure than with work, and so it has been difficult to transform our haven into a workplace. One of the solutions that we at EPSI advocate is work-life balance, but to achieve it we need to be disciplined and autonomous. Moreover, this balance becomes increasingly fragile when personal and professional life are under the same roof. Autonomous people will be able to move forward with their projects even if they find themselves alone at home. They will be more resourceful when faced with unexpected problems. Disciplined people will be able to set clear guidelines between work and personal life since it is now even easier to stay connected when the computer is nearby. On both sides, they will be able to structure their schedules to clearly delineate the hours they spend at work and at home. They will also continue with their personal daily activities unrelated to work, such as physical activity, reading, relaxation, etc. It is therefore the combination of these two skills that allows people to find balance between their personal and professional lives.
Here are some tips for developing these two elements:

  • It is important to develop a routine and plan your daily schedule according to the usual structure of a workday.
  • Set up your own work methods at home.
  • Respect your schedule and your limits to find that balance.

4. Client Service / Interpersonal Skills.
This competency takes on a whole new importance in today’s context. Social distancing means that human contact with clients is almost non-existent, and when it does occur, we wear masks on either side of a Plexiglas, or we meet by telephone or videoconference. The non-verbal elements being thus limited, those who master this skill will be more considerate of others. In addition, these people will be more attentive, patient, and caring, and will have client satisfaction at the heart of their actions. The current situation can also generate additional stress for some people, so it is important to be empathetic, courteous, and respectful, no matter what the situation.
Here are a few tips to develop this skill:

  • Go beyond the client’s initial request. Be sure to ask questions that will allow you to fully understand the client’s need.
  • Develop active listening skills and focus on what the client shares with you.
  • Make sure you make eye contact with the person you are meeting in person. When wearing a mask, the eyes remain an important means of communication.

5. Creative Leadership.
This is not a new theory on leadership; rather, I have combined the aspect of creativity and innovation in leadership. The role of managers becomes even more important when employees are no longer physically in the workplace. People who have mastered these two elements will be able to find creative and innovative ways to engage their employees. They will also be able to create a stimulating work environment despite social distancing. In a telework context, goal attainment, recognition, mobilization and work climate remain essential elements in a leadership role. Managers must therefore find adapted strategies to regain the work synergy they had before the pandemic.
Here are a few tips for developing this competency:

  • Be inspired by innovative ideas used in fields different from your own and adapt them to your reality to create stimulating working conditions.
  • Be available for your resources despite social distancing. Set up team meetings on a regular basis to allow your resources to communicate more frequently.
  • Trust your resources. Give them the leeway they need to do their work.

There are other equally important skills to develop during a pandemic. This is just a snapshot of the skills that we believe are essential to overcoming the current situation.  We are curious to know what skills you have developed to deal with this exceptional situation.

Eric Donahue
Éric Donahue, M.Ps., Ph.D.

Organizational Psychologist, Expert in Talent Management