Self-management as a way to handle the isolation when working from home

The corona crisis comes out of nowhere, making us question everything we ever took for granted. Life suddenly looks different: only essential trips are allowed, the boundaries between work and family are blurred, and we have to work from home as much as possible... Working remotely one or two days a week can actually increase our productivity. But doing it every day can wear us out and slowly alienate us from our familiar office and colleagues.

A grieving process

According to Scott Berinato, senior editor of the Harvard Business Review, we see should these days as a sort of grieving process we need to go through. The different stages of grief people experience have been described in great detail by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss-American psychiatrist. While we may experience these stages in different ways or in a different order, it’s easy to discern the various aspects of processing sorrow in today’s corona crisis.

Some initially try to deny what’s happening: ‘I’ll keep driving to work’ or ‘teleworking does not apply to us’. We experience feelings of anger (‘I’ve lost the freedom to come and go as I please) or dejection (‘I’m worried – when will this end?’). We negotiate with ourselves (‘it’ll get better soon if I keep a safe distance and wash my hands’). Eventually, we find ourselves accepting the situation (‘it is what it is, how can I make the most of this situation for myself?’).

Grief expert David Kessler adds a sixth stage: finding meaning. We need to try and find meaning in what’s happening and learn from the situation. We’ve been given the opportunity to reflect on our way of working, perhaps even change our approach, we get to develop new ideas, and so on.

There are several things we can do to make the most of this ‘new normal’.

  • Acknowledge our feelings and share our emotions: it is important to acknowledge our feelings and allow them to pass. Repressing our feelings of frustration or fear, for example, will only make them stronger, which can eventually lead to physical complaints. Be sure to share your feelings with your colleagues and listen to how they are feeling in turn. People who do not share their feelings often find it harder to understand others, because they are less receptive to their own or other people’s signals. 
  • Think positive: when you find yourself focusing on how difficult things are these days, try thinking about what is going well right now. You are still able to do your job, you have more time to spend with your children, you get to work on a project you never had time for before, and so on. Focus on those things that you are able to do, not those that you don’t have any control over. 
  • Be transparent: talk with your colleagues and agree on clear deadlines, expected results and a set way of communicating with each other. This will help you avoid misunderstandings. 
  • Make sure to communicate: you won’t be bumping into anyone in the corridor or by the coffee machine. That means you’ll need to approach communication in a more mindful way. Digital coffee breaks or informal chats can definitely help you connect with colleagues and decrease the distance between you. Turning on your camera from time to time can be useful too – seeing each other is more impactful than only hearing each other. 
  • Allow yourself a break: some of us start working in the morning and don’t let up until that last e-mail has been answered. But schedule some breaks, take the time to have lunch, plan ahead how you’d like to relax that day (going for a walk, listening to music, cooking healthy food, doing sports, etc.). Breaks allow your body to restore itself and enable you to concentrate better afterwards. The best tennis players are those who manage to relax and take their mind off the game during the match’s short breaks. 
  • Show empathy to others: empathise with others’ situation in life (young children at home, a sick parent, etc.) and be patient. Let them feel they are not in this alone. This will strengthen the trust you share and improve results. Research shows that loneliness is one of the biggest challenges people face when working remotely (from home). Loneliness makes people less motivated and less productive. 
  • Dare to ask others for help or advice: even when you don’t follow the advice you’re given, it can be good to get another perspective. Approaching your problem from a different angle can help you come up with solutions you hadn’t thought of yourself. Especially in these corona times, we often feel like we need to solve everything ourselves – but nothing could be further from the truth.

Interested in more insights on how to cope with turbulent times?

Discover the learning lessons and expertise from our faculty on how to adapt to this new reality.

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