It is hard to imagine a more dramatic short-term shift in the way people do business than the one we have seen in recent months. Companies that had previously resisted flexible and remote working have had to adapt and find ways to make this work overnight, and while some people have struggled with this transition, many have thrived and found a new lease of work-life balance.
The Covid-19 pandemic has revolutionised the way that employers view their workplace-based limitations. Making room for new employees need not require them to set aside a dedicated workspace – remote and flexible working make the need for a rigid, office-based desk seem almost old-fashioned. And if remote working models are proving fruitful, in theory you could do your job from anywhere in the world with relative ease, time differences depending.
If you can master the art of communicating in more than one language, it could help you stand out in an uncertain employment market. In this article, the third in our ‘Life after Lockdown’ series, we consider the unsettled nature of today’s job market and how second language skills could be your key point of difference.
The changing shape of the home office
After months of adjusting to some unexpected ‘new normals’, many employers have realised that their teams can work from home quite comfortably – perhaps even more effectively, too. And without having to tackle a hectic commute there and back again, employees are feeling the benefits of having extra time for their families, their hobbies or simply for themselves.
If you can work from home just as effectively as from an office, maybe physical proximity to your team is as dated a notion as the idea that an office job is ‘9 to 5’. In fact, it might be that it is still 9 to 5 – but just in another time zone altogether. If someone can do the job remotely and has no need to go to the office, maybe their location is irrelevant these days.
This may sound alarming – after all, if the pool of talent you might be competing for your next role with could potentially come from anywhere in the world, it makes the pool look more like an ocean. But there are still ways to stand out from the crowd, wherever you are based and whatever your experience level.
The skill that makes the difference
One skill that continues to be in high demand but short supply is excellence in language and communication – and this skill is in universal demand across hundreds of languages. It becomes especially important when you are looking at creating professional connections across a language or cultural barrier, which is one of the challenges of expanding your horizons to a global network.
In the first and second articles [KL1] in this series, we explored how lockdown provided a unique opportunity for people to make the necessary time required to learn a second language. We also considered the ways in which learning a second language can benefit people on a personal and professional level. As a result of having the time to commit to developing new skills, such as second language skills, it may be possible to offset the challenging economic environment by leveraging your new-found skills in a changing job market.
The more you can practise your language skills in everyday scenarios (such as through conversations at work or with friends and family), the faster you can finesse your language expertise and enhance your future employability.
Holding your own against the competition
The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a recession that has affected countries all over the world. It is expected to be twice as deep as the recession caused by the Global Financial Crisis over a decade ago. Unemployment is projected to reach nearly 10% in many OECD countries by the end of 2020, and the pandemic may continue to impact available jobs well into 2021.
It can make for grim reading to think about the employment market in such stark terms, but there are good reasons to be optimistic for the future. As we discussed in the first article [KL2] in this series, the pandemic presented people with an opportunity to rethink their career, how they worked, where they worked and how they chose to live their lives. While it has often been framed as a time of restrictions, it has also allowed people a moment to imagine a different life for themselves and their families. The threat of employment instability has come with a surprising silver lining of opportunity for some.
The prospect of competing for future jobs with people from around the world may be worrying, but UK employees with second language skills are well placed to be competitive. Some of the most in-demand languages for the UK’s needs originate from Europe, which sits within a similar time zone to the UK. The unpredictable nature of Brexit may create even more opportunities for using a second European language, and the ongoing conversations around global trade talks means that there may be opportunities for negotiations further afield too.
The interconnected nature of the modern world means that even a time difference is not necessarily a barrier. Emails can fly from A to B at any time of day, and a crossover period in the day is often possible between countries separated by more than an hour or two. Furthermore, with flexible working patterns also becoming more acceptable in a world of remote working, employees may be open to working hours that suit both their lives as well as the needs of an overseas market.
Of course, language skills are likely to be desirable to any employer that has an international element to their business, including businesses that only operate out of the UK. And if you can also bring a suite of enhanced interpersonal and communication skills, your CV should stand out in the pile. If you have spent lockdown polishing up your language and communication skills, then you may already be halfway towards negotiating your next promotion or succeeding in a necessary career move – but if not, it is never too late to start learning! If you are interested in finding out more about how we can support you or your business with language learning or cross-cultural training, please do get in touch.