The New Normal
The Covid-19 pandemic has triggered a rapid change in the way we work. Right from the early days of lockdown, it became apparent that these strange and desperate measures were actually a viable alternative to the way things had been. Working from home didn’t have to be a temporary stop-gap; it could be the new normal.
There were no baby steps – just a massive leap from one way of life to another. Teething problems were inevitable. Six months later, there are still plenty of them.
At PCSimple, we’re loving this new normal. We embraced it from Day 1, relishing the absence of hustle and bustle, the freedom from social demands, and the peace of our solitary workplaces. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but hey – we work in IT.
I really can’t stress enough the importance of boundaries. Living and working within a single environment isn’t easy. Why? Crumbling boundaries.
Boundaries in Space
The transition between home and work builds a healthy psychological barrier.
- You’re in a different place (you can’t see the dirty dishes).
- You’re with different people (they don’t call you Mum or Dad or Sugar Lips – unless you happen to bump into Brenda-from-Accounts at the coffee machine).
- You have a different role (and you’re paid to do it).
- You wear different clothes (except on wear-your-pyjamas-to-work day).
When you’re working from home, it’s advisable to create a designated work area – somewhere you can go to, and somewhere you can leave.
If you’re very lucky (I’m not), you’ll have a whole room that you can use as an office. A room with a door. Luxury.
Maybe you don’t have a room. But a table’s not a bad alternative. Dedicating a table and chair to your work creates a spatial boundary between work and home. You don’t eat (or do anything else) at this table; nobody else sits at the table; and you only work when you’re at the table. (By the way, I have a table.)
Boundaries in Time
This one’s a killer. I’ll probably get no disagreement when I say, you have to have set working hours. I think it’s something we all aspire to – crave, even – but it’s so devilishly hard to achieve:
- While your computer’s booting, there’s time to put a load of washing on.
- When you pop to the kitchen for a coffee, you might as well peel some spuds for tea while the kettle’s boiling.
- When your young child spills a drink, it would be silly to leave the clearing up until later.
- When you realise you forgot to post your grandmother’s birthday card, what’s the point in letting it sit there when you could pop it in the post and be back at your table/desk within five minutes …
- While your spouse struggles with a water leak, do you just sit there and continue working?
A sense of under-achievement when working from home is a common one, and many people will try to compensate for perceived low quality of work by working ridiculously long hours.
It’s worth taking a little time to draw up a timetable that suits you. Maybe your work hours have to be arranged around your family or your pets. If you prefer to work in small bursts, map out your day in hourly slots. If you prefer to work in the early morning, then do so.
Besides the very important matter of building and preserving boundaries, it’s also important to stay connected to your colleagues in both a professional and social sense.
Stay Connected Professionally
Being late for – or failing to attend – an online meeting isn’t so hard to do. Reprimanding someone for lousy timekeeping or skiving, however, is harder to do in the virtual environment.
If this is the way we’ll be working in the future, we must make an effort to keep hold of the work ethic.
Discipline, rules, and expectations mustn’t be allowed to disappear between the free-floating bubbles that we work in.
Keeping everyone in the loop will be hard – not because we don’t have the means (in terms of technology, it’s easier than ever), but because it might not be absolutely essential, and we might simply not bother. Through lack of information, employees can feel out of touch, and commitment can wane.
Updating colleagues on minor points as you microwave your lunch or accompany one another to the loo won’t be an option for home-workers. So maybe you could touch base via a daily five-minute Zoom meeting, or make it policy to copy everyone into all emails, or produce a short report at the end of each day – whatever suits your own company.
Stay Connected Socially
Being connected socially may not be as important as other aspects of work life, but it certainly contributes to a healthy working environment.
Why not take your coffee breaks on Zoom. Or arrange a weekly quiz. Or just send each one of your colleagues a hello every day.
Having to construct artificial boundaries to stand in place of natural ones takes willpower. And contriving to maintain relationships that are so easy when you’re together demands some mental agility. In short, we have to put a lot of effort into creating a facsimile of an old way of life.
So, you might have to split yourself into Work You and Home You. Keep them separate and treat them fairly. Give them time, space, and respect.
Can we handle the new normal? I think we can. And Brenda-from-Accounts thinks we can too.
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Article produced for and on behalf of PCSimple Ltd by Hazel @ Folio Copywriting