On wellbeing in times of hybrid work
Good morning. It’s foggy and quiet in the UK this week. The mosses “are out”, puffed up, plump, bright green and excited about the soggy weather. Nature is resting, and so am I. I am in a peaceful state of wintering, slowing down softly while finishing various bits and bobs of work before the holidays.
December is the time for reflection. As we approach the end of the solar (Gregorian) calendar year, we have the opportunity to look back and reflect on the last twelve months. As we cannot see too far ahead in the fog, we tend to move our attention inward instead. Those of us who blog and use social media dedicate this time to posting about our top developments, learnings, and adventures. That is why, on the last day of the year, you may see a grid of nine photos tagged #MyTopNine(sometimes also including the year).
This year, however, I am noticing that many people around me feel a sense of dissonance – the end of the year has arrived suddenly. Just a month ago, the very same people shared with me feeling exhausted and still catching up with their summer selves. And suddenly, the holidays are here! So what is happening?
Personally, I look at this through my own lens of interest: digital and wellbeing. I think this is the long tail of the early lockdown trauma caused by the lack of digital awareness and preparedness (amongst other things, of course). Those of us who worked remotely before the COVID pandemic moved to online work smoothly, but we were still in the minority: the geeks, digital nomads, global business professionals…Most people who entered the first lockdown were shocked into full days of screen-based work without much support for their wellbeing. (You cannot really blame managers; they were shocked, too!) And so now that we move to the post-lockdowns COVID+ years of hybrid work, we are having to adjust and shift our ways of being…permanently.
Putting aside the fact that many assumed that we would go back to the old ways of working, most of us are slowly and gradually working this new way out. We no longer set up Zoom calls one after another without appropriate time off-screen to rest. We no longer jump into work without a good morning transition from private to work mode, a grounding and a small morning routine. We no longer stay longer hours, forgetting that our home is not also an office, and thus the boundaries have to be drawn in the very same space, differently now.
Also, putting aside the vast amount of managers and leaders who are unprepared, not trained or sometimes sadly inconsiderate of those new ways of working and may plan our work as per those “old ways”, even if we manage to gradually adjust, all those changes and learnings have a cost: our energy and our wellbeing. So, no wonder that we feel exhausted and low. We need time to rest and restore from all those changes and adjustments. We need to pause and reflect: what does this new way of working mean? We need to check on our batteries and nurture ourselves – individually through self-care and collectively through connection with others.
Before we move into a productive, balanced, new way of living and working, we need to reflect on the cost those adjustments in the past few years had on us. That’s not even factoring in the impact of our individual and collective traumas and losses.
Hybrid or remote working, if managed well (by our leaders and us, too), can actually be much more productive. It may allow us more time with our families. It may be more convenient in times of health emergencies. It may be more cost-effective, too. But we need to pause, take stock of our energy lost on those adjustments and reflect on the new ways forward. We also need to list our new needs and expectations in relation to our employers, too. We shift into hybrid work as individuals and as companies, collectives of people. To work smoothly and effectively with energy left for other parts of life, we need to figure out what a “balanced life” now actually means to us.
Personally, I think foggy December and wintering time allow opportunities for this reflection. So, I hope you can find a moment to sit down, have a hot cup of tea and spend a moment checking in with yourself:
(1) How am I? How am I, REALLY? How are my physical health and energy levels? How is my mental health? How is my spirituality? What is the quality of my significant connections these days? How is my community? How are my (offline and online) tribes doing?
(2) How have I changed? How are my life and work different now? What new habits have I implemented? What has changed at work? What adjustments did I have to make, and what was their cost? (“What was their cost?” is a clean question, which means it allows a wide range of answers, but you can also be more specific:) What habits did I have to stop to function well? How has my morning routine changed? How much time do I now have for work, family, friends, and myself?
(3) What have I gained? What are the benefits of hybrid work? What are the benefits of home-office? What have I learned from those adjustments for my personal growth? In what areas of my life have I noticed more awareness and appreciation?
(4) What are my needs now? What do I need to do to function well? What do I need from people around me and my employers to have a balanced life? What do I need to ask for to be well? What do I need to thrive?
A small note on the above: many of those questions can feel quite hard to answer, so if you are stuck, ask your friends for tips to get you started and discuss it with them. Or use creative techniques: you can make a collage or mood board (with online tools or a simple Pinterest board), and you can draw or write down random words that come to your mind. If you are listing answers, it may help to challenge yourself, and when your list is finished, add another 3-5 answers (those can be the most interesting!). Enjoy!
(I am off to experiment with my wintering menu of restoring activities – it is a small journal with notes, drawings and word clouds so far. I feel like I want to add some stickers, too. Have a light weekend!)
This post was originally posted on Substack in our Syl’s Liberation Psychologies Newsletter.