One of my childhood memories of learning to swim is regularly standing at the side of the pool complaining to the swimming instructor with the refrain “I can’t do it”. Her considered and persistent response was that “can’t” is not a word. I’m not sure I ever had the courage (or cheekiness!) to respond with “no, but cannot is!”
Long before it was popular to think of having a fixed or a growth mindset, that swimming instructor was aware of the power of words. As every child knows, there is no truth in the rhyme that sticks and stones may break bones, but words will never hurt us.
I doubt that many would argue that we’re living in a new epoch being shaped by a global pandemic. Over seven months have passed since the UK first went into lockdown and whilst it can still feel like a liminal state of no longer having the old to but not yet defined what the future will be, I would suggest that now is the time to be deciding what we’re taking with us. Part of that should be the words we use because they have powerful associations.
Many of us have stopped travelling to work.
We are managing teams who are working at home.
We perhaps long for the days we were travelling to meet a client.
How we describe the situation or the activity can limit what it is. There is an almost unspoken acceptance that things need to be in neat boxes of time. I’m either at work or I’m not at work. If the lines become blurred, then we can see this as a bad thing. What’s happened to work-life balance?
I understand that there is a need for separation. Yet I am unconvinced that we should approach life with a view that time at work is ‘bad’ and that time doing our own things is ‘good’. Just as technology is challenging our understanding of what work is and how we do it, I also believe we need to explore the environment of our work.
As many of us increasingly move away from task and towards knowledge work, then adopting a different mindset to where we do our work will open up new opportunities and allow us to benefit from innovative technology, not be ruled by it.
As I pull on a pair of trainers and head out for a run or put on my helmet and grab the bike from the shed, then I’m taking the challenges and conversations from work and home out with me. As the miles pass, the ideas and solutions form. I make progress. Sometimes I’m consciously thinking about things. Occasionally#, I just lose myself in the scenery. My mindset isn’t to think of a run or a ride as just an activity or means of getting from one place to another. I’m just as likely to be running as I do my work as I am to be sitting in a chair in what passes as my “home office”.
Sometimes the greatest challenge we face is because of the artificial constraint that we put on a situation because of the small words we use.
There is a cycle-to-work scheme — but shouldn’t it be a cycle-for-work scheme?
Many of us have lost a lot over the last few months, but we shouldn’t waste that experience as we consider the future. As we realise that being in an office from 9am until 5pm isn’t always how we do our best work it should prepare us to embrace a new understanding of where we work and be creative about it. If that’s something you’re thinking about then this article on why we need to ditch the 8-hour workday may be a good place to start.
I’m still trying to convince the boss that I should be able to claim expenses for every mile I run, just as I did when I travelled by car to a client meeting. Cat’s might like to hide in boxes but for the rest of us, it’s time for the words we use to liberate our approach and use this opportunity to reimagine not just what we do but how and where we do it.