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9 Months Later: The 4 Lockdown Lessons We Didn’t See Coming

Working exclusively from home office was definitely a radical change for most of us. Find out what this special period has taught us and how to maintain balance in home office!

From constantly wearing pyjamas to embarrassing Zoom fails gone viral, the COVID-19 pandemic has completely turned the way the world works upside down. Overnight, our regular commutes and office lives were replaced by spotty wi-fi connections, business meetings with kids run amok or construction noises in the background, and just generally trying to work, homeschool, exercise, and not lose our minds, all in the same space. At home.

9 months into this bizarre situation and we’ve learned a lot from our time working remotely. And although there may now be an end in sight with vaccine distribution finally kicking off, the reality is, we’re probably going to be working from home for a while yet. Here are some of the things we honestly didn’t expect from home officing – and our top tips for dealing with these pesky WFH challenges.

We are creatures of habit (for a reason)

No more commuting back and forth to the office, more time to sleep, a lower carbon footprint; sound great, right? Then why do most of us feel so lousy without our regular routines?

Since March, many of us have been moving less, becoming sluggish, and probably snacking more than usual due to dangerous proximity to the pantry. Although going to the office is temporarily cancelled, our very human need for routine is as present as ever. Habits, and schedules make us sleep better, feel safer, and even help boost our cognitive function. And to be honest, we didn’t realize the importance of this till it was gone.

Here’s how you can reap the psychological benefits of having a schedule while working from home:

  • Recreate your daily commute by going for a walk in the morning before work and in the afternoon when you sign off. Or if you’d prefer, do some form of exercise to mark the start and end of the working day. 
  • Get dressed as if you were actually going to the office. It makes a world of difference when it comes to mindset as it triggers a mental shift between ‘relaxed’ mode and ‘work’ mode. (As comfortable as they may be, it’s harder to focus when you’re wearing the same sweatpants for the fifth day in a row.)
  • Set times for breaks during the day that mirror the coffee chats you would normally have with colleagues at the office. Get a pedometer to make sure you’re getting enough steps in the day. Allow yourself moments to truly disconnect to avoid burnout. Your work will thank you for it, as will your brain!
  • Household chores are normally boring and put off till the last minute, but, when you’re home all the time anyways due to COVID restrictions, they can be a good way to break up work tasks and get your blood moving. Throw in some laundry and wash those endless dishes. Call it productive procrastination if you want, either way, things are getting done.

It really is all about boundaries

home office dog

It’s a scene you’re probably all too familiar with by now. You wake up a little too close to 9am, decide to stay in your pjs, and start working in bed. Maybe later you migrate to the couch (at this point, your back is really not thanking you for sabotaging it). Eventually you’re taking calls in the kitchen because why not, you may as well work while prepping lunch because you’re at home anyways. You lose track of time and end up picking up some stray emails, and before you know it, you’re bleary eyed and it’s 9pm and you’ve worked far more than you would have in the office, or should in general on a daily basis. 

And weirdly, you still feel guilty about signing off, as if there’s something more you should be doing. But here’s the thing: you shouldn’t. Obsessing about working nonstop just because you’re at home is unhealthy and is now considered symptomatic of a toxic productivity cycle which needs addressing.

Luckily, there are a few key things you can do to separate your work life from your home life, even when the two seem indistinguishable.

  • Create a dedicated workspace in your home. Whether you are lucky enough to have an actual office, a working corner of another room, a desk, or even just a specific end of the dining room table: pick a place and make it yours. 
  • Log on and off for work at reasonable times, the way you would arrive to the office and leave at the end of the day. If you tend to work longer than you should, set an alarm on your phone and close your laptop when it rings. Avoid checking your emails late in the evening and on the weekends.
  • Find ways to relax and have fun once you’ve logged off, to disconnect from work. You don’t need to become a master chef or an accomplished pianist all of a sudden, just break up the monotony with music, exercise, fun movies – anything that will help you decompress and help you enjoy your afterwork hours. 
  • If you live with them, take the opportunity to spend quality time with your pets and family and focus on being present in the moment. Hide your phone in another room to limit distractions. Who knows when we’ll be able to be at home with them like this again – it’s a challenge in many ways, but also a luxury we might not be able to have in the future. 

Lockdown loneliness is real

A core part of our former working lives included going to the office, mingling with other human beings on the way, having chats and fun little coffee breaks to break up the day. Without it, work can get monotonous, fast – and it’s harder to maintain the feeling of being part of a team that is connected to one another. For people who live alone, this time may have been an especially isolating and frustrating experience.

This issue is a real tough nut to crack, but there are some things you can try as colleagues to stay connected while working remotely and remedy some of that loneliness.

  • Find creative ways to spend time together online; whether it’s a casual lunch meeting, online team cooking class, Friday drinks with colleagues, it helps to interact with your coworkers in other ways than just exchanging messages about projects and reports 24/7.
  • Create a #howsmyhomeofficechannel where people can share funny WFH stories, music they’re currently listening to, recipes, contests for different yearly events like a Halloween Pumpkin carving contest or whatever’s relevant to your company and region.
  • If the COVID-19 restrictions in your area of the globe allow it, consider meeting up for a socially distanced walk, or allowing partial attendance to the office – some personality types struggle more than others from isolation and don’t necessarily get relief from Zoom calls, so they might appreciate seeing a friendly face in person if possible.

Time for workplace 2.0

Technologically speaking, this change forced a digital shift many workplaces weren’t actually ready for. But beyond the digital, it also forced organisations to re-evaluate the antiquated workday system we’ve been hanging onto, notions about being present vs. being productive, and the kind of company culture they’d like to provide for their employees during this period and moving forward.

  • Leverage all the tools at your disposal; from phone conferencing tech, to project management suites and internal comms systems, if you have a need, there’s definitely an app for it. 
  • Since we’re not in emergency ‘switch to home office’ mode anymore, take the time to actually figure out what works best for your company. Maybe a few outdated systems can be updated, and vice versa, some unnecessary programs can be scrapped altogether. Now’s the time to figure it out.

Most importantly, moving forward, we should create and maintain a remote workplace with a hybrid future in mind. Even if things do go back to ‘normal’ fairly soon, they definitely won’t resemble exactly what we had before. People will expect more flexibility than before, the choice about when and where they work, and a much higher degree of empathy from their employers. And hopefully, we’ll bring these vital lockdown learnings right back to the office with us.

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