by Louise Gibson

‘Insanity is dong the same thing over and over and expecting different results’ Albert Einstein**

Why have I begun with this? That should become clear later.

So the last 19 months comms work wise has been (delete as appropriate):

  • Interesting
  • Awful
  • Challenging
  • Bizarre
  • I want to go lie down in a dark room please!

A shifting landscape of messages, processes, rules, misinformation, disinformation, priorities, strategies and diminishing budgets has meant that public sector comms people have never needed to be on top of their game more than they do now.

It’s getting harder to learn

Most of us in public sector comms have seen our work load increase with less time available in the working week for personal career development and (non-essential) training. At a time when being able to share ideas, learning and knowledge is absolutely key to both improving the efficacy of our comms and making sure we have real human connection, we’re often not prioritising it because we simply have too much work to get through each day.

If you’re in a public sector organisation where professional development has continued unhindered by Covid well done, hats off to you all.

I’ve always been a bit of a comms geek so I’ll happily immerse myself out of work hours in comms blogs, sites, social media and podcasts but I’ve been doing that less recently as my work hours creep up and I try to keep a semblance of a work-life balance.

That sort of learning by osmosis is great but definitely no substitute for sharing ideas with real people, after all, our communication has people right at it’s heart and to keep our comms human and relatable we need that person to person interaction.

Commscamp is space to learn

I’m especially thinking of attending comms conferences and training, virtual or real-life, in normal working hours. So I decided to bite the bullet and try to get tickets for CommsCamp this year.

For those who don’t know (seriously where have you been?) this is a public and charity sector comms unconference, free to those who are lucky enough to bag a ticket, with the agenda set by delegates pitching sessions on the day. It’s probably one of the most useful and valuable comms events I’ve ever attended, there’s a good reason tickets are snapped up within minutesof release.

I managed to get tickets for both half days and despite worries about coming back from it to a huge pile of work, I’m very glad I attended both. It was time away from work and yes, I did have to have a quiet word with myself about not feeling guilt about that – which incidentally none of us should – but time being work focused that reminded me of the importance and benefits of learning and development within office hours:

SIX benefits of learning on work time

  1. We all need time distanced from the day job but within work hours to decompress, step back and gain perspective. It’s often hard to see different ways of working or creating when we’re in the thick of it fighting those comms fires.
  2. Ideas! Conferences and training are brilliant places to spark those lightbulb moments. Ideas flow thick and fast from others in the room and, given the time to think about things in a different way generally from within yourself too. You’ll find ideas you can apply straight away, an immediate work benefit, or tuck away for future use.
  3. People – meeting with peers and other professionals virtually or face to face to chat to, bounce ideas off, listen to, learn from, support, encourage and potentially collaborate with is invaluable. I say this as a total introvert by the way, even if it feels daunting the benefits outweigh the fear!
  4. People again – I know, I’ve said this above but it’s the key thing! I’ve got to know and become friends with some lovely people at comms events and training. We may be working at home, sometimes feeling isolated but we very much don’t have to be alone and I’ve found that I’ve now got an amazing network of friends, collaborators and co-conspirators should I need a nudge or advice and that of course is a two way street.
  5. Empathy. I’ve touched on this in the points above but being with people in the same boat, who totally get it but are tackling issues in a different way or can offer advice and support can be very grounding, comforting and generally brings practical advice. These are often the people that say ‘feel free to drop me a line’, ‘here’s my email address’, ‘give me a call to chat about…’.
  6. Time-out so that you don’t burn-out, crucially not having this time eat into home time and keeping a good balance.

Ultimately yes, if you take time out of the work day to attend a comms conference or training you’ll probably come back to some extra work but the net result is that you leaving feeling ‘work refreshed’; creative, invigorated and ready to face the day-to-day comms challenges in a different way. I’ve already made changes to my work based on things I gained from CommsCamp and that will ultimately benefit me, the organisation I work for and the people we communicate with.

If we continue to work in the same way, if that way isn’t the most effective or practical then we can’t hope for differing results. Without learning, developing, adapting and improving we’ll have diminishing returns on the considerable work we put in to our comms. Learning and development is a valuable, necessary and logical investment in our work.

**Not actually Albert Einstein – this quote is often attributed to him but that’s been widely debunked as on Quote Investigator.

Louise Gibson is digital channels focused communications officer at Sheffield City Council.

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