The New Normal Can Be Extraordinary

Written By: Dr. Victor Seah, Deputy Head, Psychology Programme, School of Humanities and Behavioural Sciences

The Great Return to the Office, the Great Resignation, the Great Work-from-Home Experiment (WFH), Flexible Work Arrangements (FWA), staggered work hours, Work-In-Office (WIO), telecommuting, hybrid, Zoom meeting – these terms signify the tremendous and ongoing changes that we have been experiencing in the past two years at work. Outside of work, we also had/have/may continue to have labour shortages, lockdowns, Circuit Breakers (CB), reopening, vaccination centres, mRNA, Jobs Support Scheme (JSS), Social Distancing, Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL), misinformation, panic buying, TraceTogether, booster shots, variants, well-being, fake news, and self-isolation. Where are we now? We are in the new normal. First coined ahead of its time in the 1980s, we are well and truly in a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous (VUCA) world.

Should we give in to Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD)? Obviously not. Yes, the next, and maybe more deadly pandemic is likely to be just around the corner. COVID-19 is not gone. But COVID-19 has demonstrated that we are highly adaptable. If you were told in January 2020 that 1) you would be working from home for the next two years, 2) and that you would be working more-or-less as well as you might be working in the office, you would probably find it hard to believe. Yet, we have more-or-less successfully completed the Great Work-from-Home Experiment. Organisations too have demonstrated their resilience with many pivoting and undergoing digital transformations at unprecedented speeds. “10 years’ growth in e-commerce within 3 months” and “two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months” are examples of how quickly many organisations have adapted to a COVID-19 world.

How can you, the SUSS alumni, pivot?
Here are three ways:

1. Fresh Starts and Personal Stories

Too often, New Year’s resolutions are lies that many of us tell ourselves every year. Why do we do it? Because the New Year is a fresh start. And fresh starts are excellent opportunities to edit your self-theories – the stories that you tell yourself and the beliefs that you have. Fresh starts are powerful because they allow you to compartmentalise things. By compartmentalising past failures and imperfections (e.g., you were known to come to work late), we distance ourselves from our past selves and in doing so, give ourselves the ability and motivation to craft a newer and better version of ourselves.

Consulting firm McKinsey very cleverly suggested that businesses should think of The Great Resignation as an opportunity to attract new talents, that The Great Resignation can potentially be The Great Attraction. Similarly, ongoing changes such as going back to the office, and increasing digitalisation of your work, are opportunities when you start seeing them as fresh starts. Take this opportunity to think about what you would like to change about your story during this period of transition. This is the start of your personal pivoting.

2. Commitment Devices

Now that we have identified our goal, we need to think of how we can follow through with actions. We need to think of commitment devices – ways to ensure that we remain committed to achieving, and working towards, our goal. Just as how smokers wanting to quit are encouraged to declare their goal to loved ones, we can commit to our goal by declaring it to people whom
1) we know will support us, and
2) can verify our progress.

If your goal is to be known as the employee who always comes in on time, your grandmother will likely support you but is unable to verify if you have been doing so. A close friend at work is a more suitable person to declare your goal to. Our desire to have our words match our actions and the potential shame of publicly failing to achieve our goal are powerful motivators.

3. Stay engaged with your alma mater

Some goals cannot be achieved on your own. And some goals are more easily achieved with the support of others. This is especially the case with more complex and aspirational goals. One of the greatest benefits of your university education can be the friendships and networks that you can build. Note that I wrote “can”, instead of “have” built. Don’t fret if you were shy in class and made very few friends during your days in university. You can still build friendships with your peers through the many events that SUSS’s alumni office regularly conducts. And I, along with other faculty staff, are keen to see you succeed. Send me an email if you take on these steps – I’ll be happy to provide guidance and a listening ear. All the best!