There’s no doubt that the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19 has changed our lives. Of course, it has most heavily affected those directly infected, their families, and those caring for the sick. But the pandemic has affected – and will continue to affect – everyone and every facet of society, not least of which is our work rhythms.
The effects of the 2020 global pandemic on work rhythms and societal norms was the subject of a recent piece written by Karen Borremans, resident clinical psychologist at Flemish startup Moonbird. Her essay, which you can read in Dutch here, asked the big questions facing employers and employees alike these days: “Are we going to go back to the ‘normal’ work rhythm? What lessons are we learning? What will be different?”
Changes from every direction
A major theme that Karen highlights is change. We all had to change our daily life and adjust our rhythms when the pandemic and the lock downs started. Now that lock downs are lifting (and in some places being reinstated), there’s whole new sets of changes.
She points out that just because we’re adjusting back to work doesn’t mean that it’s not an adjustment. What’s more, nothing is going back to exactly the way it was. So no matter what, we’re still having to figure out new ways of working. At the same time, we’re also still figuring out new ways of playing, moving, traveling, and everything else. As official measures are revised, what we can and cannot do changes. Nothing is secure or permanent. This is challenging at the best of times, let alone in a stressful situation that has serious implications for our health.
As we transition back to a less locked down work rhythm, individuals need to be mindful of their mental health. We need to introspect, take time to breathe, and allow our emotions room so that they don’t overwhelm us. Karen further points out that we need to pay attention to our physical well-being as much as our mental: relaxation and balance need to be combined with movement and healthy eating and sleeping habits.
She specifies, “Try not to be too hard on yourself . . . Define your limits and expectations, but be flexible and adjust your expectations over time. Take the time to consider what is feasible and what is not.”
Employers’ efforts to help re-establish post pandemic work rhythms
Companies, too, can play a role in easing the transition from lock down, even as they face financial difficulties in the face of the pandemic’s economic impact. “Especially at this moment employers have to find a balance between task orientation and people orientation,” Karen writes. “For organizations it will therefore be a question of finding a balance between their economic capital and the ‘mental capital’ of their employees.”
All the new ways of working that we’ve developed during the crisis do not necessarily have to be suddenly taken off the table. It’s not a black and white story. The crisis also created many opportunities: for example, in mobility or through more teleworking. Within organizations, there need to be discussions about which positive aspects of the crisis can be retained in order to increase productivity.Karen Borremans, (Moonbird) Clinical Psychologist
Above all, it’s about paying attention to each other. Organizations need to create an environment at work that allows for Covid-19 adjustments aside from extra hand gel and spacing between desks. Senior colleagues should be cognizant of how much they ask of employees, and be watchful for signs of stress and anxiety. Flexibility will be the name of the game as we all try to re-establish work-life balances.
Tips & Tricks for employers and colleagues
Karen spells out some concrete actions we can be aware of in our working world, both as employers and coworkers, to help make the post lock down transition smoother:
- “Regularly do individual face-to-face check-ins: ask before a meeting how someone is really doing, how that person feels with the current situation.” This might feel invasive, but knowing how a colleague is really feeling can help inform how we handle the work environment.
- “Show understanding for someone’s feelings and look for appropriate measures: a better work-life balance, maybe more teleworking for more days, sliding hours, slowly rebuild the workload, balance productivity with capacity and adjust someone’s tasks, Or, if necessary, referral for appropriate (mental help) such as an internal confidential counselor, external prevention advisor or psychologist.”
- “Be a role model for your employees: show how you can work on our mental well-being, spread actions and set up activities. Ask those responsible to explain how they actively do this, and teams will be more likely to try it out. Moreover, you create a culture where it is okay to feel less than great and you rid mental well-being of its taboo.”
- “(Transparent) communication: it may be necessary to adjust the existing guidelines and procedures relating to sick leave, teleworking and welfare policy. A clear framework with a transparent communication plan helps for everyone. Plan individual one-on-one meetings between managers and employees, and facilitate networking between colleagues.”
Flemish start-up Moonbird is focused on your breath. Well, they’re focused on helping you focus on your breath so that you can relax. Through a combination of biomedical sciences and clinical psychology, the team of four is working hard on digital technology-driven solutions to help us all calm down a little. You can check out their website and their forthcoming breathing exercise device here.