A year ago…
When Covid-19 hit the globe at the start of 2020, organisations and people had to begin working very differently very quickly. People in offices had to immediately adopt a ‘working from home’ approach on an every day basis for at what started out to be thought of for a few weeks, or a month, has turned into an indefinite period of time.
The company 71&Change have adapted the traditional Kubler-Ross model and created a new change curve that I think reflects the impact the pandemic has had on our journeys through this specific environment (see picture 1). Instead of a ‘smooth’ curve with only 1 dip, or what I call a ‘risk zone’,
there are multiple curves that resemble more like a wild roller coaster ride than anything else. On top of that, there have been multiple times when we think we are through one phase and starting another, just to realise we are back to the previous phase again, for a whole host of reasons: government guidelines, infection levels, etc.
So here we are, a year later, and we have come to realise that this new approach and ride, in many ways, is here to stay for quite a while. On top of that, when we do reach the stabilisation phase of the curve, how we interact and work will be different than it was in December 2019. The majority of us will not ever go back into an office full time.
Prior to Covid-19, the average statistics stated that in general, an office was occupied approximately 60-65% of any given time; meaning that 35-40% of the workforce were elsewhere – whether that is on annual leave, sick, client offices or working remotely. There is now acceptance that after this is all said and done, those ratios will be in the most part reversed and there is a good deal of data that supports this published by Cushman & Wakefield, JLL and McKinsey, to name a few. The phrase that is now being used is ‘hybrid working’ and this has been defined as someone who may work remotely 2-4 days a week and may be in the office only 1-2 days.
Personally I think this will become the norm, and I would argue although many organisations recognise and theoretically will agree with this statement, I think on a practical level they are not ready for it and their people aren’t either. I think the clear evidence of this are the numerous statements being made by multiple people across different platforms, “I am working harder now than before,” “I feel I don’t have any work/life balance,” “I am digitally burned out,” “I am zoomed out,” “I am working longer hours than ever before”, the list continues.
Steps to help us thrive
What organisations and people need to realise is to make this ‘new’ way of working a thriving environment, there are a number of new behaviours we all need to adopt, starting with ourselves.
To be fair, my usual modus aperandi, is a hybrid way of working and has been so for a number of years – long before Covid. However there was a time a few years ago, I was experiencing ‘digital burnout’ and expressing the same sentiments shared above. I eventually realised, I needed to re-create for myself the office environment at home and that included more than just having a device with good broadband and headset.
In a typical office day, there are a number of times when each of us will be interrupted by a colleague asking us a question, or seeking feedback – this requires us to stop what we are doing, turn away from the screen and engage with a live person. There are also times when we get up from the desk to go make a cup of coffee/tea – again this requires us to stop what we are doing and step away for a few moments. Many of us will also go out for lunch, or at the very least go out to get a lunch to then bring back to the office and either sit at the desk or collaboration area. In any case, again we stop what we are doing, step away and do something else.
All these ‘stop’ moments are critical in our mental capacity to be able to take a break and focus on something else for a short period of time. It gives us social-ability and enables us to feel human, rather than a non-stop machine, which is really important. This is what we need to re-create and give ourselves permission to do. So many of us feel guilty if we stop to go out for a walk, or take the dog for a walk, or give our child/parent/care responsibility some attention. Yet we are happy to take the same amount of time out, in the office. So, the question becomes, how can we do this?
Hints and Tips
My biggest tip is for us to first recognise that just because we are working from home (wfh), does not mean we need to work non-stop. The convenience, or in some instances, inconvenience, of wfh does not mean that we suddenly are not human. This may be an obvious statement, but I think many times we do not give ourselves that permission to be human, especially in work – we expect to be ‘on’ all the time, and that just is not possible.
To help us with that, we can start to look at our diaries and schedule in 5-10 minute breaks and lunch breaks – make them re-occurring every day. We may find that one day we don’t take it at a certain time, but we need to prioritise them just as much as our meetings – think of them as meetings with yourself, or house member – you can even have a brief chat with a colleague who you have a friendship with – just make sure it is done away from the screen; otherwise, it becomes another digital/work meeting.
We also need to schedule in the off time of the day – what I mean by that is, on a Monday for example, put in ‘unavailable’ from midnight to 830am and then from 6pm onwards to help train yourself to create a proper work day at home. Now, you may say at this point, but isn’t one of the points of this new way of working is to stop the idea of 9-5 traditional working hours and for some this is true. I know people who start at 830, take a few hours off in the afternoon to do things, and then start back at work at 3/4pm and go until 8pm. The choice is yours on that front. The lesson here is to schedule when it is we are working, as well as, when we are not.
The purpose of this re-training is to help us all go from surviving to thriving in the new environment – we have to do it for ourselves. No one will do it for us, so unlike an old dog, we need to teach ourselves some new tricks to help us all thrive – after all, for all the reasons we well and truly know, work/life balance is critical for maintaining an healthy, happy and productive professional environment and life.