It’s a very interesting time on planet earth, Covid-19 is changing the way we work, live, and connect. For many organizations and individuals, we’re finding ourselves in a self-quarantine, even if we’re not ill. And how we manage life and work while at the same time socially distancing ourselves matters. Working and living while social distancing is the new normal… even though it doesn’t feel normal.

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For many people, Social Distancing and working from home, doesn’t mean being alone. Which led to me thinking, what does this mean for work/life balance now and for the foreseeable future? Whether you are living alone or in a full house.

The Research on Working from Home

Experts have been touting for a while that working from home is a trend. It’s not new since the Covid-19 outbreak. Yet, now we are all getting to kick the tires on this strategy.

It’s a trend that has been coming for a while. And, for many, the vision of working from home is filled with sweatshirts and bunny slippered dreams dancing in people’s heads.

And, there are very tangible benefits to working from home. The ability to stop and stretch, eat your own food, take a bio break, and generally be in your own comfortable space is excellent. When we telecommute or have virtual meetings, we could be anywhere. It frees us to have a lot more flexibility in our lives that we don’t get working eight to five and dealing with long commutes.

Airtasker polled 1004 full-time employees about their productivity, commutes, and other elements of their lives. They compared everything from productivity to spending habits, to see what they could learn. In the mix were 505 remote workers.

What the research showed was that along with spending more time working, remote workers had fewer distractions, less trouble with focus, and the breaks they took in their day, increased productivity. This, of course, doesn’t take into consideration everyone being home at the same time. Still, there are real benefits.

Benefits of Remote Working

At the top of the benefits list, the commute is fantastic. Depending on where you live, your commute may run anywhere from 5 minutes to 2+ hours. The average is about 30 minutes.

I know my husband spent 6 years with a 2-hour commute average each way. That is 4 hours of life sucked dry, waiting in traffic. In the summer, his commute was longer. On pretty summer days, he was waiting for a ferry along with all the happy travelers, heading to the Olympic Peninsula for a long weekend. We came to dread Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday commute times.

When you can take the commute off your schedule, it opens up space in the morning to take stock, get organized, and mentally prepare yourself to work… just saying.

Another positive from this time is that folks who can never fit self-care or exercise into their schedule, now have a 30-minute window to jump on a treadmill or do yoga. Remote workers spend an average of 2:44 hours per week moving, versus’ their office compatriots who average around 2:00 hours a week.

The Downside of Working from Home While Social Distancing

Stress can be a bit higher in other areas when working from home. The natural boundaries of time and place get confused. If you can’t leave it at the office, because your computer is on your lap in off-hours, remote workers can feel like they don’t have a clear, “I’m done” line.

Plus, it’s easy to get sidetracked from work and shift over to personal time. For each of us individually, finding a new balance in what is a shifting landscape can be exhausting.

And, organizations are working to find a system for capturing productivity, as well as keeping teams performing and business moving. HR’s are scrambling to sort these things out. Truth be told, their findings in three months, six months, and a year from now are going to be very interesting.

The Shifting Reality on Working and Living While Social Distancing

For many people, having that separation between work and home, between spending time with others and spending time with your loved ones, leaves us with a sense of space that makes all our relationships feel better. When all of a sudden, we find ourselves “quarantined” together; some of our underlying issues may bubble to the surface.

Recently I was chatting with a Chinese friend. She mentioned how the narrative was shifting in China. In the early weeks, the media reported how families were enjoying reconnecting in the quarantine. Now the reports are leaning towards people discussing divorce. I imagine that other places will also find that too much together time, steps over connectedness, and into challenges.

Social Distancing Doesn’t Apply to People Living Together

One element that is important to prepare for, is that you may not be working from home alone. There are all the typical daily distractions when cooped up with our families. Kids at home instead of school. Spouses working in the next room. Taking business calls, when we are all in close proximity, can be difficult.

Many of my clients who work at large organizations in the Seattle area are on mandatory work from home. For many, kids are now in virtual classrooms; spouses are working from home, and to add to the equation, their college students are finishing up classes at home. All this “together time” can carry its own weight.

What started off as novel and fun, can morph into getting on each other’s nerves. “Every time I turn around, someone is standing in my office doorway, needing something,” is a growing lament.

Also, for a lot of people, their commute is uninterrupted “me time.” We use this time to listen to our favorite books, podcasts, music, or even binging for 30 minutes on our favorite video game.

Creating Healthy Boundaries

One tool that is incredibly useful to deploy is that of creating healthy boundaries. Sitting down as a family, or a team, and working out the agreements on how folks will interact with each other during times when each of you needs to be working. For parents with partners, maybe taking shifts. For single parents, it might look like a Disney movie, and mom or dad in a time out. You might also plan on shorter bursts of work.

Have a family meeting about how you will spend time together and apart within your family spaces. The age of our children can complicate all this. Small people need a lot more focused attention.

Dividing our mental energy between work and kids is, at times, frustrating. So, getting clear on your priorities and probably choosing your kids right now may be necessary. Also, setting clear expectations with yourself about just how much you can accomplish will slow down the unrealistic expectations of hours of quiet and solitude. Probably not likely with a house with kids.

Organizations need to be aware of these issues too. As there really isn’t a separation between home and work right now. And regardless, people inevitably bring stresses across these invisible boundaries.

Making Room to Connect in the Bigger World

Finding ways to connect with co-workers, friends, and extended family will probably be really helpful. At some point, you are going to want to shift from a family focus. All your time doesn’t have to be wrapped up with the people in your house 24/7.

I just started an online co-working space so that people can get together, meet new people, have conversations about their priorities, have some group coaching to stay motivated, and keep moving forward. Find these sorts of opportunities and join.

Maintaining Relationships While Social Distancing

This leads to the last element in this article. Regardless of the virtual nature of many of our relationships through social media, human beings still need connection. So, how do you create meaningful connections with those we love? Dinner parties might be on the down-low right now, but Skyping with your family and friends might be worth a go.

The virtual dinner party or virtual art day with your besties might be fun. Leaning into novel, outside the box solutions, is more than necessary; it’s imperative. Your creativity could improve your life and that of those you love.

I have made the offer to several friends for virtual get-togethers. My best friend lives halfway across the country, and we talk regularly, but we haven’t leveraged technology to be together more. We both have laptops, with camera’s, we could set up at our perspective tables and do art together… we now have this on the calendar.

Default Stress Responses

I don’t care who you are, we all have default stress responses. For one person, the default might be to become more introverted. For another person, the default might be to become overly annoyed. The spectrum of responses is broad, what is certain is that you have a stress response, we all do.

And, stating the obvious, whatever your default stress response, it’s going to be more prevalent when you’re under stress.

How this complicates things at home is when you’re having a stressful remote workday, and you need to focus your attention on a situation, and your kids are interrupting you every few minutes. Even the kindest, most compassionate person might find themselves coming unglued with the natural interruptions of how we typically spend focused work time at home.

Complicaticating this is when you are having a stressful day at home, this may show up in your virtual team meeting. Anywhere we find ourselves stressed or annoyed has a tendency to bleed into other areas of our lives.

Pull Out Your Stress Tools 

Self-awareness and tools can help us notice, name, and navigate these hiccups. It is probably a good time to practice some mindfulness tools to help you keep your cool in this new landscape. Pull out your breathing exercises. Turn on the YouTube video for yoga or Tai chi. Pick up that crafty passion you set to the side. Practice focusing on your breath for two minutes at a time, multiple times a day. Build that muscle.

I will be sending out information for Group Coaching in the next week. Maybe consider taking care of your physical, emotional, mental needs by joining group coaching with someone. Having a schedule for psychological self-care is uber important. It’s is easy to get overwhelmed, anxious, and slide into depression when the illusion of control has slipped. Working with others reminds us, 1. we are not alone in this, and 2. there are still many tools that can support our ability to navigate crisis effectively.

Pivot in the Moment

Covid-19 has pushed us all into a gigantic experiment. Families and organizations are experiencing a Black Swan event that forces them all to pivot in ways they may not have been prepared for. And, still, here we are.

We talk about living in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world. And, more than ever, we are in the middle of BIG VUCA! It’s time to re-evaluate our expectations of ourselves, our families, and our organizations. Giving grace to the reality that we are all unbalanced and looking for purchase on a bobbing life raft. And, still, there are bright spots.

The fact that we live in a digital age, and for many, this has made it possible to continue to work, connect with our teams, see family members across the country or the world. This is one of the significant benefits.

From an organizational perspective, it’s beyond time to shift gears because it’s likely that if not this virus, there will be others that surface that require people to tuck in again. Plus, this virus may not be going away in the next two weeks, two months, or who knows.

When you look at productivity and life balance, working from home is a very viable option for many industries. Not for all, though. So, there is going to be a lot of uncertainty floating about.

Small businesses are going to have to look at how to pivot too. I see a lot of restaurants pivoting from dining into delivery. It’s great to see their speed and creativity.

And, what if this new world isn’t a glimpse into some surreal experience, but instead harkens a possible future? What do you personally need to be doing to prepare yourself to work in this new landscape?

Using Your Technology to be Physically Distantanced and Socially Connected

While the technology exists to navigate the quarantined landscape, we are all going to have to work a little more consciously to make sure we are connecting. The real distractions that continuously happen in the digital world, pings for emails, FB notifications, news notifications, text messages, etc., need to be managed more diligently so that we can be with each other.

Developing plans to really connect, have virtual coffee dates, and virtual playdates, are all ways to move forward. And, this may mean having a plan to protect your time blocks. Keeping our real connections is going to be crucial.

The Covid-19 outbreak is another chance for people to re-examine their relationship with technology and each other. Asking each of us to re-evaluate our perspectives on what it means to live and work while social distancing. I wish you an abundance of creative ideas. And please share!

Your Turn...

I would LOVE to hear from YOU!

  • What is your take-away from the article?
  • What is one thing you will choose to focus on in this next week?

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