‘The New Norm’

What I’ve learned after 3 weeks of the ‘New Norm’ and Working from Home

It’s been 3 weeks since Working from Home (WFH) has become a reality for most of us. I have taken an odd WFH day in the past to concentrate on a project or focus on a deadline, but that concentration and self-discipline of the ‘occasional’ WFH day has gone out the window recently with the new norm of the ‘regular’ WFH week. It took me a while to understand what was so different, why was the adjustment was so hard?

Well first off, I discovered my family were in my office. While I advocate an open door policy in my workplace, this home policy needed reviewing as the various members of my family sauntered in and out consistently. There was no polite knock on the door…no, in they’d march whenever they pleased, sit opposite me, unwashed, undressed, iPhones in hand, heads down, grunting something that may have been a greeting but would need translating from the ‘teenager dictionary of grunts’, and proceed to crunch loudly on a breakfast cereal while intermittently breaking into laughter at some funny video their friends had sent… so, I moved my office away from the kitchen table.

In normal circumstances, I wouldn’t leave home without some lipstick and warpaint, but the WFH look is a pasty skinned, natural affair. While the initial excitement of not having to put effort into appearance was quite appealing, studies show that the clothes we wear can affect our mental and physical performance and after a few days of PJs and tracksuits, I found the act of getting dressed in ‘real’ clothes had the effect of providing a more defined lineStructure or lack of was my next discovery.

I found dressing was only one part of structuring the day that boosted my mental agility and productivity. With no school-run or commute to work, getting out of bed was a bit random, anywhere between 6.30am to watch the sunrise to 11am just in time to rock up in front of the computer for our daily, on-line office meeting.

With coronavirus restrictions limiting family members to one walk a day, our 11 year old Labrador is exhausted, so I’ve given him a break and joined the millions of people getting involved in on-line home workouts. My weekday morning now consists of setting the alarm for 8am, although I find I wake up naturally much earlier, have a leisurely breakfast and savour the first cup of tea of the day, joining The Body Coach for a 30 minute online workout, then a quick shower and change and a 30 second commute upstairs to my new office.

Staying connected while staying apart, means using a combination of productivity and video conferencing Apps, from Slack for the Production People and Extras Ireland office, Zoom for webinars, Houseparty for friendly group chats and FaceTime for staying in touch with family and close friends. My biggest learning here is not to talk over others. The mic picks up every little gesture and kills the flow of conversation and there is without doubt a comedy TV series waiting to be made about webinars hick-ups.

However, routines and on-line apps didn’t seem provide me with the self-discipline and self-motivation required to complete anything by the end of the day, with the smallest of things taking all day to do. I was distracted by everything around me. As a news junkie, I was checking for news updates every few minutes, while constantly scrolling and responding to the tsunami of incoming social media feeds. Then a bit of housework and another cup of tea or a chat with the kids and the minutes blended with the hours and mental focus was non-existent. So now I try to plan out my day into four sections of approximately 1.5hrs each with 15 minutes at the end of each section to check and respond to emails.

Next information overload set it. Webinar invites flowed in, free e-learning opportunities, audiobooks, streamed concerts, virtual museum tours, theatre performances, on-line self-improvement and home beauty tutorials, must watch Netflix series. My natural love of learning was sending me into an e-spin. I needed to Press Pause and concentrate on one self-improvement activity and one evening concert or theatre performance a week. I’ve decided its ok to just be, whatever that means, being with the family, being with your thoughts, being a mum, a wife, a sister, a friend, to cook, clean, dance, laugh, watch TV … just be.

Most of all, what I’ve learned from the last few weeks is to be kind to myself. Most of the rules of ‘normal’ are no longer available and the speed at which we have had to adapt to the ‘new norm’ is seismic. The magnitude of emotions experienced, from worry about health, family, work, business, the economy, the earth and the uncertainty of the future, to shock at the loss of liberty, restrictions on movement, to disappointment of cancelled vacations, postponed exams, to sadness at not being with loved ones or being able to share the grief with those who have lost loved ones, to gratitude and appreciation for all that we once enjoyed, all that we currently have and all that we may be lucky enough to have in the future. #StaySafeatHome