We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

by 25 Mar,20200 comments

We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

With millions and millions of us now suddenly plunged into the world of remote working, it is time to embrace a new work dynamic. Ngozi Weller explores why the old rules for work-life harmony are dead. It’s time to embrace the new way of living and working in the age of COVID-19.

A Strange New World

I woke up at 2 am the other morning with a start. The announcements that we were entering the lockdown and isolation phase of the Coronavirus strategy bothered me more than I’d realised. It’s such a lot to think about and such a lot to organise. As of Monday, all 5 of us will be holed up together, day in, day out. It will not be easy. The biggest issues that I’m anticipating are:

  1. Keeping myself and the kids calm and settled whilst their world is being turned upside down.
  2. Maintaining a semblance of order and routine for the kids with respect to their education.
  3. Getting some of my own work done whilst supervising children.
  4. Continuing to feel connected to friends and family whilst we aren’t actually able to connect.

My friends in Europe and the US have told me how tough it is, so I am under no illusions. It is as though we have found ourselves in some weird, parallel universe, one that looks like life in the 21st century but is actually a scene from a dystopian sci-fi misadventure. But as I contemplate how strange the world now is, how different from the norm (“Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore!”), I still believe that this season can bring about positive and timely changes to the way that we live and work.

Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore
Dorothy, Wizard of Oz

The New Normal

Companies that were tip-toeing around the idea of flexible and remote working have found themselves having to accelerate plans to facilitate both at break-neck speeds. How many times have you found yourself wishing that you could spend less time in the office and more time at home with your loved ones? Well, now you can (even if it turns out that you never really wanted to…). You no longer need to have those death bed regrets about not spending enough time with the children whilst they were young! But there is a right way and a wrong way to go about this. The right way is to accept that change is necessary and good. The wrong way is to try to carry on “as normal”. The secret to surviving in this dynamic work landscape that we now find ourselves in is to adopt the right mindset. If we can make the necessary mental shifts, then everything else will more or less fall into place. Change is coming, whether we like it or not and is only made more painful by trying to carry on “business as usual”. There is nothing usual about this.

Practise Makes Perfect

I have been muddling my way through this since before the first week of official school closures, as my son’s school shut up shop earlier than most due to critical under-staffing and my husband’s company also took the decision to have everyone work remotely. With three working adults and an autistic 6-year-old child all living, working and playing together under one roof, we have been navigating our way through the do’s and dont’s of multi-generational, multi-purpose living. And now that all schools are closed, as of next week, it’ll be a full house. But this trial run has been helpful to iron out some of the kinks before we do this for real. Here are my 3 biggest learnings for maintaining your sanity during these crazy times:

Forget work-life balance, the key is work-life blending.

I’ve worked from home for the majority of my 20-year career and have long been a proponent of the work-life blend. I always felt that work-life balance was too much pressure. It implies that there’s a perfect ratio of work to leisure time to achieve Maximum Happiness and I could never find it. This is a very linear view of time in which work-time and free-time are finite blocks that are on opposite ends of some invisible spectrum. Instead, I prefer to view time as circular. Yes, there are only 24 hours in a day, but how you choose to use them is up to you. You have to build a certain amount of flex in your day and that has never been more important than it is today.

The 9 – 5 is dead, long live the flexi-time! Don’t expect to work rigidly during specific office hours during quarantine, that way lies madness. You need to figure out a schedule that works for you and your family, first and foremost. I know that your colleagues and clients still depend on you, but they also have to stuff to juggle, so we just have to be a little gracious with each other during this time. We’re all in this together and that means most people will understand if you need to reschedule your regular meeting because you need to spend some time tutoring your daughter or if you want to go for a walk. Figure out what hours will work best for you and try those.

Sharing isn’t just caring, it’s essential.

I’m a loud and proud over-sharer. If I’m thinking or feeling it then I’ll either find a way to express it. I cannot stress enough how important communication is during quarantine. Communicate loudly and often with your colleagues, collaborators, clients and your fellow inmates (yes, even the little ones). Everyone is feeling things at this time and it’s making some of us behave… differently. But if you take the time to share how you are feeling with others and (here’s the key part) listen to how they’re feeling, you stand a chance of getting through this with your relationships not only intact but stronger than ever.

But sharing isn’t just about dumping your verbal load. There are duties that need to be shared too. Cooking, cleaning, childcare duties – all that *ish needs to be shared out too, regardless of who usually does it. Welcome to the new normal, folks! In our house, there are 5 living, breathing, eating, pooping souls who need to be nurtured and cared for 24-7. Before the lockdown started I made it very clear that although I normally take the lioness’ share of the childcare and household chores, this would not be the case going forward. Very quickly we worked out a rota for who would do what and when, including who is homeschooling the kids. Just as quickly, we had to change it because it wasn’t working out. But that’s ok because it’s trial and error. We’ve now figured something out which allows each adult to have a single 4 hour stretch of uninterrupted work time every day, plus another 2 hours at some point. We’ve agreed to review it every Monday night and make adjustments as needed. Whatever works for you, the key is to share the load. Otherwise, you’ll end up breeding stress and resentment that will last longer than any self-isolation period.

Kill it with kindness.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the single biggest thing that you will have to manage at this time is your mindset. These are scary times and fear messes with our minds. The most important thing that any of us can do is to be kind. Be kind to yourself by letting go of all those expectations you have of what you will do and how you will do it. You are not and never will be the perfect anything, so what? Does it really matter if you can only work at 60% of your usual capacity? Will it really ruin their childhood if your kids spend 3 hours longer on their screens each day? Focus on what you can control. You can control your attitude and your behaviours. You can make this experience easier for yourself and others by recognising that everyone is struggling to a degree. You can use this time to connect with loved ones, to learn a new discipline, to share a passion or teach a skill. And of course, be kind to others. If your staff are struggling, be sympathetic. If your supplier is taking longer to figure this out, bear with them.

At the end of the day, when we come out the other side of this strangeness, what we will remember is the kindness of others and we will be repaid for the kindness that we show. We may not be in Kansas anymore Toto, but Oz sure does look like an interesting place to be…

At Aurora Wellness we are all about mental wellbeing & productivity. To discover ways in which you can empower your people and maximise their full potential, contact us for information about our face to face and online mental wellbeing and productivity programmes.

Ngozi Weller

Ngozi Weller

Director

I support HR and people managers with the tools they need to make managing workplace wellbeing for their employees easy.

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