This may seem strange to millennials, but anyone over 40 will remember that long before the novel coronavirus, a novel concept during the 80s was the Paperless Society. By the turn of the millennium, so we were promised, the wonders of modern computing, and something called ‘videotex’ would vault modern society into the age of the Jetsons. It was going to be totally deadly and everyone was wiggin’ out.
As you maybe noticed, we were more successful ridding ourselves of the bad slang than the extra paper.
Three decades later, we’ve given up on the paperless society, but we do find ourselves in the midst of a genuinely historic moment. A worldwide pandemic has forced millions of white-collar workers to embrace working from home. And whether this shift represents a dream come true, a waking nightmare, or something in between, it’s a major adjustment for everyone affected.
Preserving mental wellness in the midst of an abrupt change is inherently stressful. Even when we think the change is positive, it can still leave us straining to adapt. If you were recently forced to start working from home, you are likely sorting through a rather paradoxical set of pros and cons which might look something like this:
- Pants optional
- Pants optional
While there are obvious upsides to being at home, such as an improved ability to focus when you’re away from the distractions of the office, loneliness emerges as a major concern for many workers, especially in the early days before you’ve adjusted to working from home. Similarly, the option to work flexible hours can be a mixed blessing. If you don’t love your job, it can be extremely difficult to get started. If you do love your job… or if you’re feeling the pressure of deadlines… it can be extremely difficult to stop working when there’s no one to tell you to go home. And while we all love working in a casual workspace, it’s easy to let things get a little too casual at home if we’re not deliberate about what boundaries we put in place. If this is you, there are some concrete steps you can take to help yourself:
- Be intentional about maintaining your working relationships
To combat loneliness, be deliberate about keeping in contact with colleagues. Use video chats, not just phone calls. Stay engaged with your teammates using instant messaging tools. (Just make sure they’re approved by your IT department.) Encourage mutual accountability. Let them know how you’re doing, and ask them how they are too. Set productivity goals, and make sure you follow through. Reward your productivity by setting aside time dedicated to visiting (maybe a virtual happy hour?) so that you can connect with each other beyond the confines of the job.
- Be intentional about maintaining yourself
Devising and implementing a thoughtful schedule for your new work-from-home arrangement will do wonders for your mental wellness. Some of the basics include establishing a start time and a stop time for work. Set up an office, if possible. At a minimum, sit at a table. Avoid the couch or working in your bedroom. Plan breaks. Limit trips to the fridge by planning your eating too. Go for a 20-minute walk on your lunch.
- Embrace gratitude
The research on happiness tells us that if you want to be happy, you have to find ways to be thankful for what you have. Whether or not you wanted this, keep your energy positive by appreciating the unexpected benefits, and approaching the unexpected challenges with determination.
- Embrace Change
The ancient philosopher Heraclitus wrote that “no man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” In a world where the only constant is change itself, flexibility is a must. Have a plan, but don’t overreact when things go awry. The universe always has another surprise beyond the next hill, so leave room in your plan for the unexpected.
“Roads? Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Roads.”
Just as Doc Brown told Marty McFly back in 1985, there really isn’t a clear road to the future. It’s more about setting the right coordinates. As you adjust to YOUR future, don’t worry too much about knowing exactly where things are headed. Just try to make the most of the ride. And maybe wear pants.
Brad Wilton is a Registered Psychotherapist at the Delton Glebe Center in Waterloo, Ontario. Whether you need to get to the bottom of things, or just want to stay on top of them, he can help!