Thriving in Working from Home, Increase Productivity, Decrease Stress
In pre-COVID-19 times, the boundary between work and the home was very pronouncedly demarcated. One left the home at 8 AM every Monday to Friday and the job had officially begun, you had left home-life behind for the next 8-10 hours. At a certain time in the evening, the clock marked the end of the workday, it is time to leave the office and return to our personal life, no more an employee, we transitioned into our home role.
“The demarcation was present in time as well as space. Once we entered home and a work call came, we picked it up grudgingly. Acknowledging the violation of personal time as well as personal space. That wasn’t just a physical demarcation but a psychological one as well.”
Then COVID-19 came and Work From Home was accepted as the “New Normal”. At first, it was greeted with a sense of surprise — what is happening?! — then irritation — why is technology not helping me! or so much more coordination and other glitches that irked us. And then finally acceptance of this situation albeit with some apprehension. As we all traversed this path from surprise to acceptance, the boundaries between home and office began to merge into one another.
Time, as well as space of home and work, keeps colliding into each other. As this happens, productivity begins to go south taking the stress levels north. Let’s dwell on the reasons for a minute why that might be happening:
The Blurring of Boundaries
Higher expectations from employers and in our own bid to ‘seem’ more productive, the afternoons merge into the evening, weekdays into weekends. To signal loyalty and productivity, we feel like we have to work all the time. With the schools shut, household staff/help no longer available, we might be attending to children, household chores and office work all at the same time. Sometimes starting to type emails while still in bed at the same time discussing the breakfast menu with our spouse.
Many of us have to work alongside family members in common spaces (like the dining or living room), who are themselves either working or learning from home.
All these confuse our brain thoroughly. It’s trying to switch between the work mode and home mode pretty rapidly and as a result, stressing. When we have the flexibility to work whenever and wherever there can be obscurity on what constitutes “work,” and what constitutes “life.”
When the time and space boundary of work and home life have dissolved, we have been guilty of attempting to do both simultaneously (preparing breakfast while being on a work call). Now, one thing we must understand is that for the human brain, there is no such thing as Multitasking. Multitasking isn’t even the right word in this context. What happens is task-switching, and it is more time-consuming to switch tasks than stick with them until we finish. Studies have demonstrated that multitasking can reduce productivity by about 40%. Multitasking means backtracking a lot. Every time we switch tasks, we have to redo a bit to find where we last left off. This process of switching between tasks can lead to many errors as well and productivity takes a beating. And this always ‘on’ mode leads to a faster or higher risk of burnout.
Countering the Enemies – Reducing stress and Thriving in WFH
A sure way to increase productivity is to set clear boundaries between your professional and personal lives. Earlier, driving to work was a ‘boundary-crossing signal’ which meant that your work avatar needs to come to the fore. In the evening we crossed the same boundary to transition back into the home avatar.
The first thing we can do is to create a boundary-crossing signal. Something that tells us that ‘Work Mode On’ or ‘Work Mode Off’. This can be wearing work clothes. Even Friday casuals are fine. This also helps maintain a “professional environment”.
Boundaries need to be created in two ways:
- Temporal Boundary: It means creating specific hours of work. Outside which one would not work. That’s when the work avatar will be active and that period the only focus is your professional life. This will also help us get into the mindset that we have to work now.
- Space Boundary: Establish a separate office space. Often working with your family next to you or in common rooms can make you feel unwilling to work, therefore having a dedicated space will only help reinforce that mindset of work. Additionally, It will also lessen familial disturbances improving productivity.
Do one thing at a time
Think of our attention as a torch. We can shine this torch on only one thing at a time. So when we think, we are being smart by multi-tasking, we are actually taking more time than what we would be doing one task at a time.
The human brain isn’t built for multitasking. But it can switch its attention from one task to the other at a lightning speed. As a result, we tire our brain from all this rapid switching and soon we begin to feel stressed out.
Our brains aren’t built to handle more than one complex task at once. We must focus on one task before moving ahead. For instance, many of us would send emails while attending a conference call, or try and finish their laundry while on a business phone call. Often this can lead to easily avoidable mistakes.
The Lockdown is presenting this whole new life that is altering our world order in ways that seems unreal. Many of us have felt disoriented. In order to keep our mind, body, and soul balanced, we need to deep dive inside of us to have a dialogue with ourselves. Any form of mediation can make us feel grounded and centred.
Take a few minutes to sit with yourself every day. Take note of what emotions are swirling inside. Trying to decode what they might mean. Discover various dialogues that may be going on in the form of negative self-talk.
If we are not used to meditating, just focussing on the breath for a few minutes is a great way to start. There are several guided meditations available online if you feel inclined to do dive in fully.
Ritualising this, helps us exude peace and joy to everyone else around at the same time, makes us more emotionally resilient brings higher levels of clarity in thought and better focus.
Together while being separate. Even though our family relationships and friendships may not be getting the same facetime, as they once did, Maintaining constant contact via technology is a huge source of emotional support. When we feel loved and cared for, our mental wellness quotient increases and it’s a huger protector against stress, anxiety, and depression. But one has to be intentional with their social relationships now. Being on social media can feel isolating and unfulfilling. So we have to be able to pick a cohort, which becomes our support system to share, vent, or just have a gossip session.
To sum up…
COVID-19 will lead to a whole new outlook on WFH culture. While it may be a forced norm now, it is very well on its way to being the standard.
To a lot of us, WFH has provided an amazing sense of freedom as well as flexibility. If we can take care of the pitfalls of stressors and maintain productivity, we can really get to that work-life balance that we have always strived for.