Full-time remote work is the new normal – at least for now. Balancing stress and recovery is critical in managing energy in all facets of our lives. We live in a world that celebrates work and activity, ignores renewal and recovery, and fails to recognise that both are necessary for sustained high performance. Energy, not time, is the fundamental currency of high performance. How well are you managing your currency?
Let’s face it: Working from home can be exhausting. You may not even see why, at first. The dissonance that comes from video calls, when your entire work world is virtual. Our minds are together when our bodies feel we are not. That dissonance, which causes people to have conflicting feelings, is exhausting. We find it difficult to relax into the conversation naturally and communication is key when you’re not working face-to-face.
The Zoombie Apocalypse
Video calls require much more focus than a face-to-face chat, because we can’t always see or feel the nonverbal cues that we are used to. Body language comes in through incomplete sentences and it’s much harder to process facial expressions and tone of voice. Research has shown that delays of 1.2 seconds through video will make people perceive a responder as less friendly or focused, when it’s really just their internet connection!
Video calls also increase our stress levels. Part of the stress comes from performance anxiety when you’re confronted with your own mugshot. When you’re on a video call, you know everyone is looking at you. Because you are on stage, the social pressure rises and you feel like you need to perform. Being performative is nerve-wracking and more stressful than meeting in person.
Staring intently at a person’s face when you’re talking to them also isn’t natural. On a video call, the only way to show we’re paying attention is to look at the camera. However, in real life, it’s unusual to stand within three feet of a colleague and stare at their face. We are used to casually looking at the person we are talking to, not seeing a couple (or even dozens) of faces gazing intently at us.
“If you are good at something, make sure that thing is also good for your wellbeing.”
Researchers at the University College London have studied in-person gaze duration. They found that people are happy to stare at people they feel comfortable with for longer periods. Looking intently at someone for more than three seconds is typically uncomfortable, especially when you’re in a meeting with your boss, or your team. While you’re just being attentive, your gaze can be misinterpreted.
COVID-19 has put society into an interesting predicament where it’s all happening at once. Every interaction is now happening via Zoom, or some other online video platform, and that can be confusing. Most of our social roles happen in different places, and now the context has collapsed. Imagine that you go to a bar, and in the same bar you talk with your boss, meet your parents, or date someone. Sounds weird, right? Well, that’s exactly what we’re doing now. We are confined to our own space, in the context of an anxiety-provoking crisis, and our only space for interaction is a computer window. Everything happens via video calls. Everything, it seems, except variety.
“Your well-being affects (and is affected by) those waves through small ripples of self-care and the decisions you make.”
All the more reason to establish boundaries and create separation in your home office, so that your online world doesn’t become a jumbled mess of insecurity and confusion. So how can we find a better way to work? Video calls are just one aspect (albeit a huge one) that have increased exponentially. Some of the other challenges that can keep you from finding success, particularly when trying to conquer your calendar, are that working from home requires a deliberate design around your schedule. Boundaries are essential to your long-term success. Many rituals and routines change when your home becomes your workplace.
A Strong Start
When you go to the office, you have a get-ready routine because you have to be somewhere, dressed a certain way, and ready to work at a certain time. What happens if this habit doesn’t carry over to your home office? When your commute changes from 60-minutes to seven steps, it’s easy to fall out of a standard routine. It’s one thing to not waste time getting ready for work (if you don’t want to) and to save time by not commuting. However, if we simply replace this time with more work, we will quickly become out of balance. Are your current personal routines supporting you to be the best version of yourself?
Business is a process. And working from home is a process as well. What can you do to be purposeful about “going to work” when you don’t have to worry about traffic on the highway and you can literally roll out of bed and log into emails? As human beings, we need a break – a change – that’s a deliberate signal that we are shifting into a different mode.
“One small positive intention in the morning can change your entire day.”
How you start your day impacts you energetically, mentally, emotionally and physically. What’s your going-to-work routine when you’re working away from the office? If you don’t have an answer right now, find one. Don’t leave your career to chance. Don’t freestyle your way to success. Establishing a schedule is the first step in setting the rituals that matter. Consider how your routines either negate or support your true needs. Would setting your alarm 15 minutes earlier give you a window to start each day aligning all aspects of yourself before attending to external responsibilities.
If this feels overwhelming, consider adding uplifting music or a healthy breakfast to your morning routine – baby steps that help affirm you love and honour yourself as a sacred being having a human experience who is worthy of having your needs met.
Are we Done?
When working at your company, the prompt to leave the office was probably something like beating the traffic or picking up the kids from daycare. All of those reasons have since evaporated. Now that those commuting hours have been returned, are those minutes a gift, or a curse? According to Bloomberg, people are reporting that they are working an average of three more hours each day. An executive at Intel reports clocking 13-hour days, working from home and another says he has to set an alarm to remind himself to stop and eat. Are you managing your time, or is time managing you? Being deliberate about how you use your time — especially time that’s been returned to you — is critical to your success.
“Caring for your body, mind, and spirit is your greatest and grandest responsibility. It’s about listening to the needs of your soul and then honoring them.”
You can always make more money but you can never make more time. Choose wisely: Align your time in a way that’s deliberate. That way, you establish new routines that help you to take advantage of the gift you’ve been given.
Pause for Thought
Remember the good old days, when you would listen to a podcast, or call your mum on your drive home from work? What about driving from work straight to the gym, or maybe going for dinner somewhere? These transitions signal your brain to transition from work — to change the channel and give your mind permission to leave work. What are you discovering as the new transition? Because you need one if you are going to be successful at working from home. Putting in long hours and pumping out great execution means building in the breaks that make the time more productive.
“Self-care is a deliberate choice to gift ourself with people, places, things, events, and opportunities that recharge our personal battery and promote whole health—body, mind, and spirit.”
Think about classical music for a moment. When you look at a piece of sheet music, what you see is a lot of white space. Without a pause, music is just noise. The rests in music are not signs that the composer is being lazy — it’s the composer being smart. The space is what matters as much as the notes! The pause makes room for what is new. Pause is for discovery. Pause is for connection. Pause is for change. Working from home asks you to compose your life on your own terms. Have you built in the pauses that you need? Put those pauses back into your day, if you want a break from the noise.
Divest Before you Invest
Most of us have been in situation where our work is very important to us. Perhaps we are meeting a critical deadline, or perhaps we are up for a promotion, so we invest. When it’s important enough we not only invest, we over-invest. Nights. Middle of the nights. Weekdays. Weekends. No hour is too late. Or too early. No slide deck too elaborate. No voicemail too detailed. No email too lengthy. We know what we want so we go after it at full speed into a burning blaze of activity every single day. Without hesitation.
When we do this we overlook the most important safety procedure: First, Divest. When we invest in something new, we must first divest in something else. We must make room in our schedule and in our mind to make the most of the new path. When you fail to divest before you invest, you lay the foundation on which to build damaging stories and habits. “I have to keep all the plates spinning!” “I’m sure I can manage if I just try harder!” “I don’t want to be seen as a quitter!” “I’m so busy that I must be important! And successful!”
“It’s a funny thing about life, once you begin to take note of the things you are grateful for, you begin to lose sight of the things that you lack.”
Back-to-back video meetings have suddenly become the new routine. Beyond the warnings from the experts, let’s bring it back to a personal question: Is that always-on routine serving you? Putting you at your best? Most people do not have a clear definition of what success looks like at work, and rarely do they have a sense of how they’re spending their time.
Time shifts when you work from home. One moment flows into the next. Without the breaks and separation we have been taught to expect, the flow of the day can seem overwhelming — or invisible, until it isn’t. Until you realise you’re exhausted, but all you’ve done is sit in Zoom meetings all day. You’ve become a Zoombie as a result of too many video calls!
“The old rules of what makes a great team still apply, whether you’re a remote team or not. You can’t build a culture if you don’t have trust, accountability, and mutual respect. The best way to kill a culture is to stop trusting people and stop giving people the respect and the responsibilities they most likely want in their jobs.”
— Tracey Halvorsen
7 Micro-Moments of Self-Care (for when you're low on time).
Self-care doesn’t need to be elaborate—or expensive. In fact, we like to think the most valuable forms of self-care are the simple and inexpensive ones that are at your disposal whenever you need them. Self-care comes in all shapes and sizes, prices, and time spans. A spa day or a full-blown weekend trip to the wilderness may be the self-care you need one day—but there will also be days you have 10 minutes – tops – to show yourself some love. When those moments come, these options are always available to you.
1. Begin a Tea-Sipping Ritual
There’s something so comforting about a cup of tea. For a quick but mindful tea ritual, find somewhere to enjoy your tea undisturbed. Take it slow. Watch the steam rise off the surface, letting it warm your face. Smell the mild aroma of the tea. Sip slowly and savour the tea and the moment. Epidemiological studies have long-found an association between regular consumption and gargling of green tea with decreased risk of influenza and common cold infection rates. Gargling with green tea has also been confirmed as lowering risk of infection in an interventional study in the elderly.
2. There’s an Oil for That!
Essential oils have been used for thousands of years for medicinal and health purposes. Because of their antidepressant, stimulating, detoxifying, antibacterial, antiviral and calming properties, they are only gaining in popularity as a natural, safe and cost-effective therapy for a number of health concerns. Essential oils for anxiety and other brain imbalances are delivered through a diffuser or a hot bath. By simply breathing the oil in, you will receive the benefits that this oil can offer on a psychological level. These scents work in two ways. First, smell is a powerful sense. Pleasant smells can remind us of good times and relieve nerves, stress and anxiety. They also change the environment and can signal, ‘it’s time for for work now’. Second, the chemicals inhaled actually enter the bloodstream and can help balance hormone levels. So, stop and smell the rose oil (or orange, or frankincense) and enjoy the mindful moment of self-care. You may even include an affirmation for good measure.
3. Press the Point
Everything is energy and energy is your currency, so if that energy is blocked, you will likely have more than one problem. Your body will tell you by expressing various symptoms and health conditions along the energy pathways called meridians. Acupressure is often called acupuncture without the needles. Instead of needles, acupressure involves the application of manual pressure (usually with the fingertips) to specific points on the body. Acupressure is a practice that has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) to help with everything from stress and anxiousness to chronic pain and immune health. Get started by pressing the Yintang point, underneath your third eye, where the bridge of your nose meets your forehead. Press it gently with your index and middle finger to promote calm during stressful moments.
4. Sound Bath
Sound baths use repetitive notes at different frequencies to help bring your focus away from your thoughts. Generally, these sounds are created with traditional crystal bowls, gemstone bowls, cymbals, and gongs. To elicit relaxation and a sense of calm, try taking a sound bath using nature sounds (or singing bowls, chimes, or any other audio you like). You can easily find recordings of sound baths online, and then, it’s simply a matter of giving the sounds your full attention. Enjoy the sounds for two minutes, 10 minutes, half an hour—however long you need to feel like you cared for yourself. The results are waves of peace, heightened awareness, and relaxation of the mind, body and spirit. Some people experience emotional healing. others great insights into their lives.
5. Breathing Exercises
Breathwork is more than an exercise in breathing correctly or with intent. Breathing techniques are tools for major transformation and healing. Breathwork encompasses a broad range of whole-being therapeutic practices and exercises used to relieve mental, physical, and/or emotional tension. Whether you need to calm down or wake up, breathwork is one of the most powerful ways we know to influence the state of your body at any moment. The physical benefits of deep breathing are often immediate. By breathing deeply, you can activate your parasympathetic nervous system, slow down your heart rate, and lower your blood pressure—creating an overall feeling of calm. You also rely on your diaphragm instead of your chest, inviting your neck and chest muscles to relax and engage your abs. A larger amount of oxygen is then able to reach your body’s cells and organs.
When your body is operating under a “fight-or-flight” response, it releases a surge of hormones (such as cortisol and adrenaline) that causes your breathing to speed up, increase your pulse and blood pressure, as you enter a state of hypervigilance. Deep breathing can help reverse this response and relax your body. There are dozens of techniques to try, which elicit different effects. We recommend alternate nostril breathing, or Nadī Shodhana. Alternating breath between the two nostrils is thought to promote balance through the body’s midline and these two Nadis, which can be compared to the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system in Western medicine. When we balance the breath through these two channels, we balance the self by balancing the masculine and feminine energy within the body. This typically has a calming effect on the nervous system, further supporting any healing process.
6. Tap it Out
The Emotional Freedom Techniques, or EFT, is the most highly recommended psychological acupressure technique to optimise your emotional health. Although it is still often overlooked, emotional health is absolutely essential to your physical health and healing — no matter how devoted you are to the proper diet and lifestyle, you will not achieve your body’s ideal healing and preventative powers if emotional barriers stand in your way. EFT is very easy to learn, and involves repeatedly tapping certain points on the body while saying certain phrases. By verbally addressing a problem while tapping pressure points, the idea is to physically and mentally release stagnant energy. One study found that tapping can help ease anxiety while increasing happiness, and since all you need is yourself, it can be done anywhere. Check out this video to learn the sequence.
7. Walk it Out
When all else fails, a good old-fashioned walk is an excellent way to work some self-care into your day. You get your body moving, you can enjoy nature and all its sounds, and walking is known to have tons of health benefits. Take it one step further and go barefoot – also known as “earthing” – to connect with the Earth while you take some time to connect with yourself.
“We change our behaviour when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing. Consequences give us the pain that motivates us to change.”
We are all recalibrating to a new normal and, according to Gallup’s article from March 2020, 43% of U.S. employees already worked remotely some or all of the time before COVID-19. Studies show remote workers can even be more productive and profitable than in-house employees. Yet, as we are all realising, there is a learning curve to remote work, and those of us who’ve recently made the transition are discovering which practices translate from office to home, and which need to be reimagined altogether.
SCHEDULE TIME TO RESPOND
Each time we are distracted from focused work, it takes 23 minutes to get back on track. This means it’s important to minimise (or even better, eliminate) our Pavlovian response to notifications. Turn off email pop-ups and app notifications. You can schedule time during your day (or twice a day) to respond. Let everyone know by updating your app status or adding your schedule to your email signature or auto-response. Let people know if it’s an emergency, they can (gasp!) call you.
PICK A PLATFORM
Those apps can help keep work moving, and they can also keep us hopping from platform to platform and one device to another to stay on top of incoming communication. Encourage your team to pick a platform and stick with it. You may need more than one to handle project files and instant messaging, but the fewer the better.
MANAGE SOCIAL MEDIA
Perhaps the easiest way to stop distractions is to do a better job managing your social media use. When you find yourself suddenly isolated at home, social connections may be a good way to keep relationships intact. Consider how you can manage your use of social tools — eliminate notifications and identify a dedicated time to check in, so you can stay focused throughout the rest of your day.
CHOOSE YOUR TERRITORY
Some people are juggling spouses who are also working from home and children who can’t go to school. It can be hard to focus and space is likely at a premium. Whether you use the dining room table or your kid’s desk, carving out a spot that tells people “I’m at work” makes a big difference to your ability to focus.
BLOCK VISUAL DISTRACTIONS
If you don’t have a home office, it’s easy to be distracted every time someone walks into the room. Block out “visual noise” with plants, bookcases, even your computer monitor to keep yourself focused. Also, tidy up your workspace to eliminate visual chaos which can also be distracting.
The number one complaint in the office is noise, and it can be even more of a problem at home. Kids watching TV, loud neighbours, traffic noises and dogs barking are all real-life distractions. If you can’t shut a door, look for ways to mitigate background noise by using headphones instead of your computer for conference calls. When scheduling your time, consider when you’ll need quiet and when you’re most likely to get it at home, then block that time on your calendar.
RESPECT YOUR CALENDAR
It can be easy when you work from home to roll out of bed, open your laptop and work late in the evening. You may need to take a call at 6 am and another at 7 pm. However, you might fit in a run during the day or some time outside playing with your kids. Whatever you do, plan your day and stick to it.
Some stress is a necessary part of life. However, it’s crucial you have a system in place to identify and prevent burnout. Be able to recognise its symptoms, audit your energy and write down how activities make you feel. Identifying behaviours that make you feel like you’re thriving and do those things every day.
We have the opportunity to train our brain into positive habits. Neuroimaging shows that even as little as 30 minutes of mindfulness a day for eight weeks can strengthen connections in our brains and reduce sensitivity to the brain’s threat-detection network (i.e. distractions). Practicing mindfulness allows us to recognise when our minds wander and redirect our attention. It also helps up to be more aware of our colleague’s boundaries.
“Part of the beauty of remote work is being able to work on a schedule that works best for you, but if you’re online and working at all hours, you’ll start burning out quickly. We’ll need to build clear rules around how technology can be used to help us maintain those boundaries for work-life balance.”
— Ryan Bonnici
5 Routines to Create WFH Boundaries
Easing into routines and setting boundaries that help separate professional and personal seems to be a recurring theme those adjusting to working from home. Here are our five takeaways for easing into routines and reimagining boundaries.
1. Transition Ritual
Creating a simple ritual to help transition into work, even without a physical commute, can be a helpful practice. Clear transitions are especially important if you don’t have a home office or separate space to work from. Your morning ritual may include not checking your phone for the first hour you are awake, and instead taking time for meditation or exercise. In the evening, you may choose not to check your phone after 9pm. You may even find that staying as close as possible to your “normal” morning routine of shower, breakfast, and exercise helps you mentally underscore personal time before work.
2. Proactive Agenda
Having a list to choose from can reduce paralysis about where to start. You might choose a start-of-the-week brain dump on Monday to help you clarify priorities for the week. At the end of each workday, follow up on your list to make a schedule for the following day. Having a structure to follow when you begin work in the morning helps to knock out the most important items first. You may also assign different projects to specific days to increase your ability to focus and set client/colleague expectations for when you are available.
3. White Space
Blocking off time on the calendar, even if it’s only 15 minutes, to do something unrelated to work can help establish a sense of autonomy over the workday – provided you commit and stick to it. Try any of the suggestions from our previous list or do something – anything – other than work to create the white space you need to breathe and receive.
4. Accept What Is
It’s impossible to maintain balance all of the time. When working from home, productivity can look like cleaning your workspace or preparing meals. Boundaries are important, and they will also sometimes blur. With that in mind, it’s a great practice to have two or three work-related tasks you can cross off your list in order to feel like you’ve accomplished something. Prioritising a few tasks that matter each day can relieve pressure and help you create momentum for the next day.
5. Self-Care Outside of Work
Self-care routines are a vital foundation for work and overall health, whether that means re-establishing an abandoned practice or starting a new one. Limiting news and social media is great for your mental health. There’s a threshold where it’s not helpful to have more information. Making time in the day for creative interests outside of work, whatever they might be, reminds you of your ability to make beautiful things as well as nourish yourself.
“Activity and rest are two vital aspects of life. To find a balance in them is a skill in itself. Wisdom is knowing when to have rest, when to have activity, and how much of each to have. Finding them in each other – activity in rest and rest in activity – is the ultimate freedom.”
WFH Wellbeing Checklist for Leaders
The change has been sudden, in a sustained moment of uncertainty, and has disrupted employee routines and support structures. People who are used to working from home are not necessarily used to their homes being a co-working facility for the whole family. People who are used to living alone are not necessarily used to being alone all day and all week. Teams who are used to connecting virtually are not used to doing so while worrying about the future for themselves, and the future of their loved ones that they cannot reach.
Especially during these uncertain times, leaders serve critical roles in helping their team stay engaged and focused. People’s ability to work well together as a team requires them being physically, cognitively and emotionally well. In our day-to-day routines, we have learned to fine-tune our surroundings, processes and habits to find our productive balance. Much of this has now been thrown into disarray. Leaders can help people by having conversations about their needs and how to adjust their individual and teamwork practices to create a new balance.
“We like to give people the freedom to work where they want, safe in the knowledge that they have the drive and expertise to perform excellently, whether they at their desk or in their kitchen. Yours truly has never worked out of an office, and never will.”
— Sir Richard Branson
A healthy, engaged and productive work environment starts with conversations about people’s needs. Here is a checklist for establishing a healthy, engaged and productive workplace. Whether you lead a team or are a member of a team, these are good topics of conversation to make sure everyone is thinking holistically about their wellbeing.
Staying healthy requires adequate sleep, a balanced diet, exercise and a safe environment. Being contained at home reduces our options. Ask people to think about the following:
Do you have a space at home where you can work comfortably, in terms of posture and noise levels? If it’s not ideal, are there small creative adjustments you could make to improve it?
Build in time to move, stretch or do some chair yoga. Changing postures is even more important when your workstation is not as ergonomic as you would like.
Walk or pace during calls if possible. Leaders may share that they are doing this to create permission for others. Not only is it good for our bodies, movement stimulates our attention, stabilises our mood and helps us retain information over the long term.
Make sure to take time to look out the window, look at your plants or even pictures of nature. Natural elements re-energise us and increase our wellbeing.
Establish clear time boundaries for work so that you are not connected and thinking about work around the clock.
If you find yourself compulsively snacking, you might be subconsciously trying to avoid the task you just thought about. It’s a mechanism our brain uses to save energy by not thinking about the hard stuff. Take note of each time you feel like getting up, what you were working on and what your last thought was. Think about how to overcome that barrier so that it’s off your figurative plate.
Mindfulness is much more than meditation. It’s about being attentive in the present moment, whether it’s listening closely to what someone is saying, or listening closely to your own body’s needs and your emotions. Practicing mindfulness helps us become more aware of what helps us feel better and can actually boost our mood and immune system.
Are you able to be present with what you are doing or who you are speaking to?
When you feel yourself getting anxious and worried, focus on observing the details of what you are seeing, smelling, hearing and touching. Or try breathing slowly and taking the time to exhale. This will activate your parasympathetic nervous system and induce a state of calm. This breathwork is also an excellent practice to do between tasks, signalling to your brain that one thing is done and another is about to start.
Aim to get into the flow of work. Losing the sense of time while engaged in an activity is a natural high that drives us all to practice and master new skills.
Remember to be mindful of other people’s boundaries. It’s a slippery slope once you begin to allow the crossing of boundaries, personally or in your team.
Increasingly, people want to be able to be themselves at work and not hide behind a mask. However, for many, this new working arrangement might expose them more than they would like – video conferencing can feel suddenly too intimate, as colleagues can see into our homes and relationships more than they can when we work in the office. People may feel like they are letting team members down if they have to take care of young children instead of being in the meeting. Consider discussing:
How do I feel about having virtual meetings from my home?
How is my work schedule disrupted, and how does it need to be adjusted to fit this new reality?
Leaders can share their own struggles with their team, so people know they have room to be fallible as well. Emphasise these are unusual times, and it’s okay to figure out together how to be more productive.
Think about what you could adjust to make it more comfortable to do remote video calls, such as not using the camera for some discussions, setting up a camera-friendly zone, using a zoom background, or defining specific hours in which you know you won’t be disturbed.
Feeling connected to and cared for by other people is a fundamental human need. Social distancing and isolation will impact wellbeing over time. For many this isolation eliminates the daily informal interactions that they were used to.
What are the interactions you used to look forward to and are now missing?
Build in buffer-time in meetings to chat and check in before getting down to work.
Schedule virtual informal chats and coffees with colleagues, and not just official meetings.
Connect virtually with loved ones in the evening.
Set up team chats for updates so people feel connected to the greater community.
Find ways to connect people to the larger organisation so they see we are all in this together.
One of the most important elements to feel well on a day-to-day basis at work is to know that your work is building toward something and helping others. This can be difficult to see when working remotely and solely on devices. Explore ways to make your work more tangible.
What gives you the most satisfaction from your work on a daily basis? How has this new situation changed your ability to get that satisfaction? How might you find new creative ways to obtain that satisfaction?
Create a virtual board for monitoring tasks and progress for your projects.
Have regular check-ins to share where you are at, what challenges you are facing and celebrate what you’ve accomplished.
Write down your project title at the top of a sheet of paper, and each day, write the date and what you’ve accomplished underneath, even if it’s only a small step forward.
Think about what really motivates you to get to work each day, write it on a sheet of paper and pin it up next to your computer.
In these highly uncertain and constraining times, we can feel anxious and helpless. It’s important not to give in to that sentiment, and remember we still have opportunities to make the most of the situation.
Is there anything in particular you are struggling with? How could you, your family or we as a team make it better?
Every day, note three things you are grateful for.
Make a practice of helping out someone else in need. Research shows that helping others actually causes us to feel better and reduces our heart rate.
There is no right or wrong. These are suggestions individuals can explore to find what they respond to best. Leaders can encourage their teams to share their ideas with each other. And above all, remember to be kind and forgiving to yourself and everyone else — we are all in this together.
“You can never over-communicate enough as a leader at a company, and at a remote company, nothing could be truer. Because you don’t physically see people in-person, information doesn’t spread in the same way, so leaders need to do the heavy lifting for evangelising the message.”
— Claire Lew