In his address to the nation on 21 April 2020, President Ramaphosa had this to say: “We are resolved not merely to return our economy to where it was before, but to forge a new economy in a new global reality.” Other commentators, including Johann Rupert, have also said that they believe that the COVID-19 emergency signals a profound change, a reset.
For me, it’s clear that if we are not going back to what we once thought was normal, we need to forge a new way of ordering our lives and, importantly, working. Trying to imagine what this new world of work might look like can be dizzying, but we can make some predictions with a fair amount of certainty: one is that there will be an even greater use of – and dependence on – technology. But there’s also a lot of fear about the impact on job security.
The one question that has been circling through my mind for the past few weeks has been: “How do I add value in this new reality, and make myself indispensable?”
While the answer might vary from industry to industry, I have found it useful to follow these three steps in thinking about how to rise to the challenge of a new working environment:
- Expand yourself. We can all agree that this is a threatening situation. Studies have shown that threatening situations prompt us to behave conservatively, which is the last thing we should be doing. Now is the time to let your creative genius shine and to expand your mind. The most common path to reinvention is cultivating knowledge and skills while building relationships. Step out of your comfort zone and engage with people that can teach you something; sign up for courses that will expand your range of interests and explore the different opportunities that this situation brings. See how you can apply a new set of thinking to your area of specialisation.  Some examples from my own experience during lockdown. Out of necessity, I have had to cook a whole lot more. By watching cooking demos and attending webinars, I have learnt the power of breaking down complex concepts into steps with a ‘recipe’. By supporting fintech entrepreneurs at this time, I have learnt the power of building a platform and using this as a basis to scale offerings in my business. It’s all about taking what learns in one area and applying it to your working life.
- Demonstrate your value. Perhaps you’re the kind of person that goes the extra mile and never lets anyone know – forget it! Gone are the days of quietly toiling away and working hard. You need to demonstrate the value you continue to bring to your company. Put together business cases to show how the activities you are (or could be) involved in directly contribute to the bottom line. This is the ideal time to proactively volunteer for projects, initiatives and causes outside your direct role.
- Proactively find ways to help your company grow. Out of the box ideas and proactive action are what is needed to thrive – especially when waves of disruption are upsetting everything we all thought we knew. Create a revised business model (for yourself; your division or your business); find out which processes need streamlining or reinvention; investigate new channels: engage in new partnerships and challenge your assumptions. Companies need every employee to explore, find new business opportunities and innovate. Be at the forefront, show that you understand what’s at stake and that you have the business savvy to help steer the ship.
Disruption creates new opportunities, and somewhat levels the playing field. We’re now all in a position to influence how the new working and social environment will look – and how we would like to be perceived.
That’s the big lesson: when normality is overturned, we have the unique chance of reinventing our environment and ourselves.
Don’t be fooled: it will be challenging to navigate these far-reaching changes. To do so successfully, we must be more adaptable and more open to change. Trying to stand still is fatal. The work of forging our new common reality is open to everyone – make sure you put in the work needed. There’s never been a better time to stand out and leave your mark.
Here is a tool to help you think of how you can stand out.
 “IN FULL | President Cyril Ramaphosa’s speech on R500bn rescue package and Covid-19 lockdown ending in phases”, TimesLive (21 April 2020), available at https://www.timeslive.co.za/news/south-africa/2020-04-21-in-full-president-cyril-ramaphosas-speech-on-r500bn-rescue-package-and-covid-19-lockdown-ending-in-phases/.
 Rob Rose, “Johann Rupert: ‘This isn’t just a pause — it’s an entire reset of our economic system”, Financial Mail (9 April 2020), available at https://www.businesslive.co.za/fm/features/cover-story/2020-04-09-johann-rupert-this-isnt-just-a-pause-its-an-entire-reset-of-our-economic-system/.
 Herminia Ibarra, “Reinventing Your Career in the Time of Coronavirus”, Harvard Business Review (27 April 2020), available at https://hbr.org/2020/04/reinventing-your-career-in-the-time-of-coronavirus.