WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak as a Pandemic on March 11,2020. Since then our life has catapulted into the unknown and we’ve had to adjust to the 'new normal'. Never seen before, we all transformed our home environment into a space where 3 different but integral aspects of us would function out of- Our Professional, Social and Private lives. We had to master the art of multitasking these different aspects.
In a space where all aspects of our life are intermingled , it is important to separate them. From advice on why working on your bed may not be as productive as you think, to when you should ‘unplug’ and take a break, these are some of the ways that could help you a achieve a much needed work life balance during these times-
Dedicate a space for all your needs
Being confined to our homes, our environment is integral in shaping the quality of our work. This is why a dedicated workspace is important to the success of a work from home environment. “It helps boost efficiency, productivity and creativity while working remotely” says The Herald Leader
Having a separate home office to work from is not a privilege that most of us have. However just the act of a separation from the home space may give the illusion of a remote work setup. This can done by simply decluttering your table of household items or investing in a good chair and a desk. The trick is to have a setup to only cater to your work needs.
While having a separate work space seems logical, one of the evident benefits of a WFH situation is being able to work from your bed. However, experts at the The Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard say that skipping working on your bed may not only help in being more productive but would also help you relax better. So if you're finding it tough to get work done, get off the bed or couch and give the dining table a try. While it is important to think about where you're working out of, what you wear while working should also be thought about.
Dress the part
As tempting as attending work zoom calls in your PJs sounds, it is a known fact that changing out of clothes that you have slept in will help your brain realise its time to get to work. The Phenomenon of "Enclothed Cognition" was covered in a 2012 paper which talks about how clothes have a profound impact on the wearers psychological processes. "The symbolic meaning of the clothes as well as the physical experience of wearing them" dictates our attitude and behaviour. Hence, ditching the PJs for comfortable but a slight more formal wear could also do the trick to increase productivity.
Skipping that morning shower when you know you are just going to be at home may seem tempting. However, showering before starting work has its benefits. From your unconscious mind generating ideas to the rich supply of dopamine that your boy generates to make you feel energised and productive, the otherwise mundane and mindless task of having a shower does have its benefits. A hot shower before an important task also helps reduce stress levels. Thus helping you mentally prepare for the day ahead. Personally, a shower in the morning also makes me look and feel more presentable which in turn motivates me to plan my day out.
Create a schedule that suits you and your work
During this time, it is normal for time to feel warped and either go by too quick or too slow. However for optimum productive functioning, it is essential that we plan a schedule for ourselves. One that provides us a rough idea on how we should spend our day. From our working hours to when its time to log off and relax, a loose framework will prevent us from either overworking ourselves or taking very long breaks.
If you work a typical 9-5, it is important to not let work bleed into your life. For a freelancer, clear designated working and personal hours could make it easier to work without distractions.
Setting your phone on a Do Not Disturb mode after work hours could also be helpful. This would prevent you from checking work emails and messages and it monopolising your free time.
Work out to keep working
Exercising has a variety of benefits, from keeping our body fit to helping our brain rejuvenate. A study also shows that engaging in physical exercise during the day helped in increasing concentration and mindfulness levels which resulted in a 72% improvement in the persons ability to manage their time and complete their workload.
Engaging in physical activity during the workday helps increase stamina and improve mood. This releases chemicals such as Dopamine, Norepinephrine and Serotonin which are 'feel good chemicals' and help in boosting your mood. This results in better concentration, attention, motivation , learning and arousal levels. These chemicals not only help us in dealing with the stress but it also boosts creativity. It also helps us combat stress and any anxiety that we may feel work related. Attending that online workout session has never been more tempting. While a good 15 min HIIT session may give you the boost you want, a break may be just what you need.
Take small but frequent breaks
Another viable option to help the creative and productive juices flow, is taking breaks in the outdoors. This could include something as small as a 10 minute walk around your residence or just time spent outside soaking up some sunshine. Studies show that spending time in the outdoors helped them increase their creative output to about 60% more than normal.
Some people may find it futile to take frequent breaks to just sit around and browse social media. However these breaks could be beneficial in utilising it to finish household chores or run errands. The entire point is taking a break from the work space to help you re-energise for more work. A way that I would re-energise in the office would be walking to the nearest coffee shop but I had to let go of that ritual with WFH.
Creating your own WFH Ritual
We all have our office ritual, whether it was rushing to catch the 9am train or grabbing your favourite coffee on the way. However these routines have gone for a toss with all of us working from home. The sudden break due to Covid-19 from this routine has left us uncomfortable. However, we can also create certain rituals while working from home.
Ryan Howes tells SELF that certain rituals which we engage in while transitioning from work roles to a more personal role, or vice versa, are integral in helping with our mindset while we are doing those tasks. For instance, making a cup of coffee and spending some quiet time before starting work in the morning would seamlessly help us transition from feeling at home to feeling a bit more professional.The goal of these rituals is to help you focus and ease into work.
It is also extremely helpful in establishing a fixed Shutdown ritual after the work day ends. This is to prevent it from spooling into your private time. Small acts like clearing out your work desk, unplugging your devices, changing your environment and spending time with your family can effectively help you unwind and destress for the day.
Do not glorify your Burnout
Work has been hectic and analysis by NordVPN proves it. It shows that the average working day, since Mid March, in the US has increased by 3 hours, 2 hours in U.K., France, Spain and Canada and about an hour in Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium and Austria. These extra hours over the typical working days not only increase the workload but also cause emotional stress and anxiety about its completion.
WHO has officially classified Burnout Syndrome as a chronic diseases and characterises it with 3 dimensions of- feelings of exhaustion, cynicism regarding one's job and reduced professional efficacy. A survey shows, an alarming 95% of Millennial Indians admit to being stressed regarding their job and its future prospects- a number higher than an other millennial population in the world.
Media has always played a huge role in causing us to overwork overwork ourselves to the point of exhaustion. By portraying 'Workaholic' characters as the pinnacle of success one should aim to achieve in their professional life, they've propagated the idea that if you ain’t stressing about it, you're probably not doing enough of it. Stress is a common feature of any job. However if it has been pushing you to the point of you burning out, it could mean you need a break.
How to deal with your Burnout
Some of the simplest ways one can avoid feeling burntout while working from home is respecting work hours. Work related correspondence and emails should be sent within office hours so that even the receiver doesn't feel pressured to reply right away. It is also important to prioritise the workload to prevent feeling overwhelmed with the 'checklist' of the work that needs to be completed. Addressing any feelings of intense and persistent stress or anxiety should be of paramount importance. Whether it is reaching out to someone from work, a family or friend or even a healthcare proffesional , these feelings should be dealt with.
Learn to say "I'll get to it tomorrow"
The competitiveness in a work setting is addictive but during the covid 19 crisis, it has become an essential component if you want to keep your job. Everyone is scared and pushing their limits to maximise their output in order to secure their job. Workplace stress has increased and spilled onto employees private life. Erin Reid, an associate professor at McMaster University's DeGroote School of Business and Lakshmi Ramarajan, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School , tell Harvard Business Review about their research on the same. The research found out about the 3 ways people respond to the demands of a high pressure workplace. Typically an employee relies on any one of these 3 strategies - "accepting and conforming to the demands of a high-pressure workplace; passing as ideal workers by quietly finding ways around the norm; or revealing their other commitments and their unwillingness to abandon them."
While all 3 of these strategies have their own benefits and drawback, the trick is to find a balance. One should not buy in to the "ideal worker" culture and push themselves to burning out. However, one should also not dismiss their job responsibilities just because they are off the clock. If work presents itself after work hours, one should learn to politely inform their employers that it cannot be done but also ensure them that it would be completed the next day.
How companies can aid in finding the balance
With 88% of the Indian workforce preferring working from home during this pandemic, it is integral that the companies also play their part in making sure that remote working is productive as well as comfortable for its employees. SAP India has taken such measures to ensure a thriving work from home environment. The initiative aims at covering their employees insurance as well as non-insurance needs. From best technological support and home office setups to wellness offerings and interactive workshops to promote mindfulness. This company has tried its best to facilitate a healthy work life balance as well as increase employee engagement.
The HR department of PolicyBazaar has also introduced a variety of measures to ensure the wellbeing of its employees. They have an Internal helpline just for employees to discuss any they issues they may be facing. Frequent webinars are also being held to generate a positive work environment. These steps are taken to ensure that no employee feels like they are dealing with this crisis on their own.
Working from home also means that employees miss out on hanging out together during their breaks and de-stressing in between work. Launching of remote online sessions where employees could interact with each other during a specific time of the day could be a suitable alternative to 'meeting at the water-cooler' in office.
Tougher for women to find balance
Women are getting the raw end of the deal when it comes to working from home. Apart from meeting their job deadlines, they also have certain household responsibilities that they are expected to fulfil. The culmination of it all could be overwhelming to anyone. Because of the rigid gender roles that are seen in India, the onus of these responsibilities falls solely on women. Most of the time, they may feel helpless with the amount of burden they may be facing.
It is important to strike a balance between your work and your personal life. Not only for your sake but also for your family and those around you. This work from home environment is a new change that many of us are still getting used to. It is important to adapt with changing times but it is also important to restructure our thought patterns. People are more prone to the Burnout Syndrome with increasing work pressures. Hence quality of work over its quantity should be considered. It is also necessary to create a system which demands real workers rather than 'ideal workers'.