A few weeks ago, I addressed the issue of What If. What if COVID-19 were here
to stay until next year in hopes that by then there would be a vaccine to treat it and even prevent us from getting the virus? What if the business or industry in which we worked continued to bleed and our jobs were not too secure? What if working from home was not a passing situation and it became necessary for us to settle into this ‘new’ work environment while remaining productive and pertinent to our employing organization?
Oh, I get it. Addressing these types of what ifs was nothing that was exciting or fulfilling inany sense. And some readers even told me as much. However, regardless of our wishful thinking and regardless of whether we listened to the messengers who predicted this would soon be over it appears that we just may be in this for many months ahead. Now what? The many inconveniences we needed to accept … the challenges associated with doing our work or having social interactions or having balance in our lives have potentially moved to the back burner. We probably don’t need much more evidence to inform us that we are in for a longer haul than we ever imagined then to witness the upward climb in the spread of this virus that we are experiencing today.
In my personal view, if addressing and creating the ‘what if’ plan made sense 3 months ago, today it seems imperative that we willingly do so today as we simply don’t
know how long added unemployment dollars will continue … how long certain business will be afforded loans to help maintain their teams … how long we will be able to earn the dollars needed to maintain our lives as we have known them. As the on-line ‘Atlantic’ magazine has called it … we are in ‘UNCHARTERED’ land with so little to look back on as a means of providing a road map that allows us to successfully navigate these waters in today’s world.
What A Successful ‘What If’ Plan Needs to Consider
To begin and for the exercise of seriously creating a ‘what if’ plan for ourselves, I’m going to dare to suggest in a wishful thinking mode that children will again be able to actually go to the classroom. Perhaps it won’t be daily or perhaps it will mean staggered attendance with some going only in the morning and others in the afternoon. Regardless, it means that our ability to work from home has been enhanced by the reduction of distractions.
Olga Khazan authored an article in the Atlantic entitled Work From Home Is Here to Stay … The future of jobs after the pandemic is a blurry mix of work, life, pajamas and Zoom. She interestingly addresses the potential benefits and negatives of what this means to employees and companies. And, as the title indicates, these are things that we must accept and to which we must adapt. The change has happened, and it has created a new normal in so many ways that seem out of our individual control.
Khazan sees the line separating work and home life has blurred in varying ways and raises the following questions:
- How do I successfully create boundaries that allow me to maintain a balanced life made up of work and personal?
- How do I create the connection with others that I thrive on as a motivator in the work I do?
- How does the company evaluate and maintain confidence that I am being productive although not in the office?
- How do I realistically establish a ‘work area’ at home that I can go to and then leave when the workday is over?
- In representing the company, how can I monitor and track the work being done and the time being spent by home-based employees to insure the needed value?
- What changes must the company make in terms of their attitudes and measurements that allow for an employee’s need to attend to other things at home during the workday?
- To one in the boss’ role and whose job it is to motivate their reports how can I adjust my approach given the inability to bring all together in the same room?
Still and whereas these are all real and valid questions, Khazan concludes … “The post-pandemic workplace will have fewer lunches, happy hours, and conferences where schmoozers can make their mark. People who succeed are therefore likely to be those who can generate results without a lot of in-person interaction with their colleagues.
The Threat to Successfully Adapting
Although lots of discussion, I have been unable to find definitive answers to questions such as those posed above. Rather it appears to be work in progress. It’s understandable in that we are truly in unchartered territory … one in which we have been thrust without options to decide if we want to be there or not. And while we are all figuring out the how, why and when related to this new territory there is the very real and threatening potential of simply feeling burned out. According to the Harvard Business Review, this is seen as the greatest threat to adapting successfully and can clearly undermine all efforts we might be making to do so. Three ways are suggested to minimize and even avoid this happening and they are related to setting healthy boundaries between ones professional and personal lives.
- Maintain physical and social boundaries
When going to the office we dress for work and we have some type of commute. At the end of the day or on weekends we dress differently and the work we might do isof a completely different nature. Although now that ‘home’ has become both the workplace and our residence, it is important that still maintain these differentiating boundaries. If it means getting dressed for work as we have always done, that is important … even observing ‘casual Friday’. Replacing a morning commute with a morning walk or run as if on the way to the workplace, that is what we do. Maintaining the work routine is key here.
- Maintain boundaries that respect the needs and challenges of others as much as possible
This is critical for well-being and work engagement. So many of us working havethe challenge of integrating childcare or elder-care responsibilities during regular work hours. It’s challenging even for employees without children or other family responsibilities, thanks to the mobile devices that always keep our work with us . Sticking to a 9 to 5 work schedule may be unrealistic. All must be respectful of others in a similar situation. Being successful in establishing such boundaries often depends on the ability to coordinate ones’ time with others. The leader of your department or team can assist in making this real.
- Focus on your most important work
While working from home, employees often feel compelled to project the appearance of productivity, but this can lead themto work on tasks that are more immediateinstead of more important—a tendency that research suggests is counterproductive in the long run, even if it benefits productivity in the short run. Employees, particularly those facing increased workloads as they juggle family and work tasks, should pay attention to prioritizing important work. We all need to find new ways—and help others do the same—to carve out non-work time and mental space. Employees will need the flexibility to experiment with how to make their circumstances work for them in these unpredictable times.
Of course, the choice of when and how we address today’s very real situation is ours
is to individually make. To my way of thinking creating our individual plan as to how we will best deal with the “what if’ that we are better able to envision seems a wise way to spend some minutes. Now, some 5 months later, the need to do so is more realistic than not.Mike Dorman