x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Hoping to get ahead at work? Look beyond your comfort zone

It's important for even the busiest of people to make time in their schedule for learning new skills.

In these days of economic uncertainty, many companies try to maintain low costs by laying off employees and handing over their tasks to others to take care of. So for instance, an account manager might find himself managing three accounts instead of one, in addition to handling all the administrative tasks, which leaves him with no time to develop his skills.

Although difficult times require difficult measures, plugging along in this manner is risky. The business world changes rapidly and sometimes unpredictable circumstances jump our way; if we are not equipped with the necessary skills, do not possess a grasp of the right knowledge or have an overview of the latest trends in the market, we could simply fall behind and our skills become obsolete.

But what could you do if you are stuck in a similar situation with limited opportunities to expand your skills but nevertheless the ambition to learn? I find that the tips below come in handy, especially when I am buried in projects and do not have enough time to enrol in seminars and courses.

Keep an eye on learning opportunities within your organisation. Say you always wanted to learn more about private equity but never got the chance to enrol in that private equity 101 course, you still have an opportunity to learn if your organisation has that division. Many organisations provide orientation programmes. Get your human resources department to set up a meeting with a member of staff from another division who could talk to you about the scope of its work and projects.

Dedicate some time for learning within your schedule. Time seems to be the most valuable asset when you are working but just as you dedicate an hour to meeting suppliers or responding to emails, put aside 10 or 20 per cent of your time every day for learning. You could, for example, in addition to networking with people within your organisation to learn more about their various roles, read a business journal. Some people even sign up for online seminars and learn from the comfort of their own desk.

Get involved in projects outside your role. Almost all organisations have projects that cut across various departments and have people in different roles working on them. Find out if there is anything on the horizon that you could get involved in. Sometimes all it takes is for you to ask. This will not only provide you with an opportunity to expand your team-playing skills by working alongside people outside your department but will also deepen your knowledge. You might even discover new areas of strength that you were not aware of. Plus this will show your ability to work in areas outside your comfort zone — a characteristic that upper management always looks at when appraisal time comes.

Expand beyond your role at work. If your organisation is going through a slow time and is not handling as many projects as previously that does not mean you should slow down too. Take this opportunity to expand your skills and network beyond your organisation. If you are a good writer contribute to blogs or a local newspaper. A friend of mine is a good public speaker and loves to share her small business management experience. When work was slow she signed up to be a speaker at several local seminars and conferences. Not only did she expand her network and enhance her public speaking skills, she met an executive at an event who offered her a better job.

Last but not least, if you are a manager then delegate to free up your time. Many people who get promoted are so used to handling a lot of operational and administrative tasks simultaneously that they forget to delegate. Delegating not only frees up time in your schedule that you can put towards improving your skills, but doing so will also allow your subordinates to build skills and knowledge too; a win-win solution for all.

We all go through busy times and wonder how we will be able to handle the next project when we have got three others to focus on. However, organising one’s schedule and grasping the opportunity to network whenever there is a chance will always be beneficial and could open the door to future opportunities, just as in my friend’s case

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati writer and fashion designer based in Abu Dhabi