Furlough Doesn’t Need To Be All Doom and Gloom: What I learned When I Was Given Time To Reassess

At the start of 2020, none of us could have predicted what this year would end up looking like. For Jake Cawdery, he certainly didn’t expect he would be furloughed from his existing job and then end up making a new career move in the middle of a global pandemic. But this is where he currently finds himself: two weeks into a new role as Operations Director at Curated.

We sat down to get to know more about Jake’s journey, his experience on furlough, and how he’s navigating joining a new team remotely.

Some of Jake’s top tips for staying sane while on furlough:

  1. Keep in touch with friends and family, even if it’s just over the phone
  2. Explore the outdoors: go for a walk, a run, a bike ride, anything!
  3. Get a sweat on: exercise releases endorphins and makes you feel good
  4. Plan ahead: write a list of everything you want to do once you’re out of lockdown
  5. Look after number one: take care of yourself — if you’re having a down day, acknowledge it and don’t shy away from negative feelings, talk about them and revert back to your future plans

Keep reading for more…

Tell us about your background prior to starting this new role?

My backstory is pretty straightforward to be honest and, in fact, Curated is only my third employer since graduating. This has never been through a lack of ambition or drive — in fact this is what gets me out of bed every morning. I suppose my loyalty boils down to the fact I have worked for some really exciting businesses and with even more amazing people.

After graduating in 2013, I was fortunate enough to land the job of my dreams: working for my boyhood team, Arsenal Football Club. I was responsible for everything that encompassed operations within the stadium tours department; I was charged with the management of 70+ employees, this was both a daunting and exciting challenge to take on and most definitely one that put me on the path to where I am today.

Jake has long been an Arsenal fan!

During my time at Arsenal, there was a massive drive for fan engagement and the tours were a critical tool in delivering this — admittedly the successive FA Cup wins in 2014 and 2015 helped a little!

After three fantastic years spent at Arsenal, I made a deadline day transfer to The Supper Club — a membership community of scale up founders and CEOs. I spent three and half years with the business, where I worked closely with the MD, sourcing and implementing new systems and processes to enhance efficiencies and support the achievement of defined yet challenging business KPIs.

It’s now mid-2020 and the world is doing its utmost to overthrow COVID-19 and return to some sense of normality. The world of work as we know it has been put to the test like never before, but it’s now I have chosen to throw myself into the biggest challenge of my career thus far.

My new role as Operations Director at Curated will see a real focus toward driving and facilitating business growth, ensuring that the appropriate internal processes and frameworks are in place to deliver success aligned with the business goals. Aside from this, I see myself as a real people person and I pride myself on creating a positive environment that enables both the people and the business to grow in tandem. This is an ethos, I will be bringing with me as I embark on my journey with Curated.

You were furloughed before joining Curated — what was your experience of that?

Two weeks into working remotely I was asked by my previous employer if I would agree to being placed on the job retention scheme. At the time, this was a pretty new concept to us all and I hadn’t paid much attention to what this looked like. I was naive in thinking that this virus would be sorted in a few weeks — he says almost three months later!

Being furloughed hit me for six, and momentarily I selfishly thought about how I had an 11 month old at home, mortgage, bills to pay, and that my salary would be capped. I got tired of hearing “you’re getting paid to do nothing” or “you’re getting 80% of your salary.” I didn’t want to be doing ‘nothing’, I wanted to be needed. The not knowing just didn’t sit comfortably with me. I wanted to be able to support my peers and work with them to overcome the struggles that would ensue as a result of COVID-19.

After a week or so of dragging my heels and having a good old sulk, I went for a long walk in the countryside. I remember taking deep breaths of what felt like the freshest air I had smelled in such a long time — a far cry from the body odour and pollution on my daily central line commute. This seemed to kick me into action and I turned my sulk on its head. I decided to begin enjoying my time away from work, after all, it’s time I will probably never get again in my working life!

Reflecting on my time on furlough, if I had one bit of advice, it would be “don’t take it personally.” The business has such huge obstacles to overcome and spare a thought for your colleagues who continue working to ensure you have a job to return to.

How did having the ‘break’ help you prepare for your new role?

In all honesty, the most noticeable thing for me is I have found a new level of energy and passion for what I can bring to a business. Granted, I am only two weeks into my new role but I feel as though, both mentally and physically, I have passed my MOT and had a full service. I also bought a few books that I hadn’t had the time to read before; as a sports enthusiast, I am really enjoying Legacy: What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life by James Kerr. The most memorable quote for me is: “Vision without action is a dream. Action without vision is a nightmare” — something I will be taking with me as I embark upon my journey with Curated.

Did you know you’d be making this move mid-pandemic?

Not at all. I had had some open and honest conversations with my previous employers about my development and wanting to step into an Operations Director role and then COVID-19 reared its ugly head. Being furloughed brought an air of uncertainty that I just don’t deal well with and, ultimately, I wanted to regain control of my career as opposed to waiting on instructions from the government or my employer. So I took it upon myself to reach out to Simon who I had heard was looking for someone to join the business in an operations capacity. I am sure Simon will agree that the recruitment process was a little unorthodox; from the fact we never met during the interview process (everything was over Zoom) right through to finally meeting face to face to be given my work laptop!

What’s the biggest difficulty you anticipate starting a new job remotely and how will you go about building strong team bonds over the likes of Zoom and Skype?

Fortunately both Zoom and the concept of working from home are not unfamiliar to my new team, so this isn’t something I had to worry about. The biggest difficulty I anticipate is that gaining the team’s full trust is going to take a longer time than it would had I been joining under normal circumstances, where an ad-hoc chat over a cup of tea would have naturally developed and the opportunity to get to know me would have been achieved on a more personal level.

While we are all readily available via telephone, email, or video call, the norm that we are all conforming to in this new age of working is booking in a set time in an individual’s diary, where you each dedicate that time to a specific topic and the call has a set agenda. With this said, I think it’s natural to worry about the team feeling like the bonding phase is forced, scheduled, and mechanical as opposed to developing naturally as it would in a normal office environment. All I can do is be honest and transparent throughout and keep reminding them of my vision and purpose and that I am always on hand to support them. I feel that if I can make an impact and achieve quick wins that both benefit the team and the business, the team will quickly feel that I am working toward the same common goal.

I have had fantastic one-to-one Zoom calls with each and every one of my team, where the conversation gave me the opportunity to understand what their roles and responsibilities entailed, what their current personal motivations are, where their current happiness levels are (and what we can do to improve them), what their expectations of me are, and how I can support them.

Business aside, one thing we all agreed on and can build a bond over, is the fact that we can’t wait for the pubs to open so we have a reason to have a good drink!

What advice would you give to someone looking to make a career move now?

Do it! Covid-20 could be around the corner! As tough as it is out there right now, I am a big believer in being the ‘master of your own destiny.’ Unless you are really fortunate to be headhunted, it’s you who controls your next step in your career. Personal growth should always be at the forefront of your mind. It is only when you are placed in a challenging environment that you truly reveal the capacity you have to learn. Whilst salaries and job titles, for example, are often used as a gauge of your level of achievement, for me, success in my professional life is being able to look back in years to come and see the gradual progression and milestones I have achieved and being able to recall upon memorable experiences that shaped the entirety of my career.

What about others still on furlough? How can they get the most out of this experience, and stay sane?

Everyone will have a different approach to this and it’s not a one size fits all by any means. But if I had to list out what worked for me, these would be my top tips:

  1. Don’t be a stranger: pick up your phone and keep in contact with friends and family
  2. Explore the outdoors: go for a walk, a run, a bike ride, and listen to the wind
  3. Get a sweat on: exercise releases endorphins and makes you feel good about yourself
  4. Roll, don’t scroll: play board games, quizzes, crosswords, sudoku — anything other than aimlessly scrolling through social media to fill time
  5. Plan ahead: take an afternoon to write a list of everything you want to do once you’re out of lockdown
  6. Make the kitchen your friend: cook good food from scratch, having the time to piece together your own meals is super rewarding
  7. Look after number one: take care of yourself and even if you are having a down day, acknowledge it and don’t shy away from any negative feelings, talk about them and revert back to your future plans
  8. Remember the good times: revisit those nostalgic memories and let them serve as a reminder that more good times lie ahead
  9. Spring clean: tidy that wardrobe you have been putting off for months, give your kitchen a spruce or, if you like suffering at the hands of hay fever, get outdoors and do some gardening
  10. Netflix and chill: take it how you like!

If you’re inspired by Jake’s journey or his approach to furlough, why not take a leaf out of his book and try some of his tips above. Whether you’re furloughed or not, we can all learn a thing or two by taking time out to reassess, re-engage, and reignite!

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