Preparing for the New Normal amidst the immediate crisis

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Preparing for the New Normal
Encourage colleagues to schedule fifty-minute meetings instead of one- hour ones; twenty-five-minute meetings instead of a half an hour one. It’s a difference of five to ten minutes but it gives your mind a pause and helps you focus and recharge.

Preparing for the new normal, for a more permanent work from home scenario

If you have continued to work through the successive lockdowns and unlocks that have been part of the pandemic experience worldwide, it means that you are lucky enough to be in a job that has transitioned to an online /digital mode. But scrambling together to work remotely in response to an immediate crisis, is quite different from a more long-term commitment to this New Normal. We may need to hunker down for at least a year, likely longer. 

How can you best prepare for a more permanent work from home scenario? Does WFH mean Work Anytime, Anywhere? Let’s frame the response along three dimensions: body, mind, and spirit. These are not entirely distinct but if one considers all three, it’s likely that all our bases will get covered.

Body

Let’s begin with the Body. How much should you focus on physical appearance? In general, WFH affords you the opportunity to wear more comfortable clothes. But tempting as it might seem, don’t fall into the trap of remaining in your pyjamas all day (been there, done that, and it’s a bad habit!).

Good daily hygiene (brushing your teeth, showering and changing into a different set of clothes each morning) cannot be neglected. And then, there’s keeping your body well maintained, for which you must consider your nutrition as well as some form of exercise. If your team sport/gym/swimming pool are no longer accessible, download any app or you-tube video to cultivate even a 20-minutes daily habit of some physical activity. Warning: don’t postpone this; your loose clothes will conveniently obscure your potentially expanding girth!

A broader definition of the Body could also include a consideration of your physical infrastructure. Right off the bat, a good broadband plan and service provider is essential. This is especially important if you are sharing the network with others in the family, be it spouse, parents, and/or children. Ideally, a good plan will also include a backup in case of power failures. A good phone data plan (so that you can fall-back on a Hotspot) and/or a dongle are probably apt. The second key physical priority is to invest in an ergonomic chair. Taking the occasional call or email reply from your sofa or bed is ok but if you’re working from home full time, then arm yourself with a decent chair to guard against debilitating backaches. Carving out a separate space that also includes a work desk are additional physical desirables though, perhaps, not as easy to arrange in a small apartment with many family members. Take care of your laptop; this is not a good time to deal with a coffee spill; ensure your firewalls are updated too.

Mind

Now, let’s look at the Mind.  How do you keep yourself mentally stimulated and, also, give your mind some rest during a busy working day?  While each individual’s work is distinct, the work of most knowledge workers come in three broad categories:

  1. The solo thinking / evaluating / reflecting/ decision-making part of work,
  2. The collaborative discussion / communication / interactive part, and
  3. The administrative/routine part.

The thinking aspect requires you to be primed with the knowledge, skills, and experience in your field of study. It requires you to get exposure to related areas to better understand the ecosystem in which you work and to enable you to “see around corners.” You can build that growth mindset through continuous learning – both in terms of depth in your chosen subject/s and the breadth of various related subjects. It’s no longer enough to have T-shaped skills (one major area of specialization, with a breadth of exposure to other areas); you need Pi-shaped skills (two areas of specialisation)… nay, Comb-shaped skills (multiple areas of specialisation, with a breadth of exposure to diverse fields), to push the boundaries of thought leadership.

The admin tasks are relatively easier to accomplish from home if you’re disciplined about completing them timely and leveraging automation opportunities where feasible. But the second – collaborative part – is inhibited by your absence from the office. You can move some of it to formal meetings over zoom or webex, but you’d still end up losing out on the informal chats, the casual sharing, the cross-fertilisation of ideas that so often fosters innovative thinking. One must make the best of the circumstances. To make meetings more engaging and to keep your mind alert, try to avoid back-to-back calls. Encourage colleagues to schedule fifty-minute meetings instead of one- hour ones; twenty-five-minute meetings instead of a half an hour one. It’s a difference of five to ten minutes but it gives your mind a pause and helps you focus and recharge.

Spirit

Coming back to the dimensions to frame a successful WFH ecosystem, we must finally consider the Spirit. Some may define it as the spiritual/religious part of our sense of wellbeing. They would not be wrong. But faith does not cover this dimension. I define Spirit in the broadest possible way. It includes all the relatively less tangible elements of our health – our faith, our emotional connections, our sense of self-worth, our ability to find stillness, our ability to be (without constantly striving to become). Excerpts from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” may help to illustrate what I mean-

“If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same… “

How does one find the anchor within oneself especially at a time when there is so much anxiety and uncertainty all around us? My recommendation is to take the simple steps: spend time with nature – be it walking in a park or caring for a house plant, listen to music that you enjoy, telephone a friend, indulge a hobby, read. Even household activities can become opportunities to exercise that spiritual muscle. Think about THAT the next time you wash the dishes! And then, there’s always yoga, which so amazingly combines components of body, mind, and spirit in one package gifted to us by our forebears.

So, there you have it: the key ingredients for not simply coping with WFH but thriving on it! Pick the activities that resonate and give them a go. If/when you falter, don’t go on a guilt trip; just start over and try again. The key is to keep exploring and negotiating the boundaries around your work and your life. And to be prepared to discover that just when you think you have gotten into a rhythm; something will go awry, and you will have the chance to make new adjustments while embracing an ever-changing new normal!

* Views are personal.

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