2020 was filled with novel challenges and dangers across the world and, even as events continued to unfold throughout the year, there was always a focus on getting back to some kind of normality. Now that 2021 has arrived it’s clear that a lot of the changes so many of us have had to make are not temporary, and that 2020 was not a short departure from normal life but a clear dividing line between Before Covid-19 and After Covid-19.
It can feel somewhat self-indulgent to complain about the impact of national lockdown restrictions when you are able to work from home when so many people have lost loved ones, battled with an unpredictable illness, lost their jobs and stability, or still have to travel to work and put themselves at risk every day. But with mainland Scotland having been under Tier 4 restrictions since 5th January 2021 it is certainly understandable that many of us who do work from home are struggling to accept an even stricter lockdown when we have removed so much from our lives already.
There are a few recurring complaints from those who have been working from home since March 2020. Dealing with some of the most common ones in turn:-
Separating work and home life
This is both a physical and a mental issue. It isn’t possible for everyone to have a separate working space at home so you might find yourself in your bedroom or living space with a laptop. Even when you do have the use of a spare room or home office, it is extremely tempting to do things like leave your computer on to check emails late into the night, or take on household tasks or chores at points throughout the day. Eventually, both work and home combine so that there is never any real rest.
With the majority of nurseries and schools currently closed (having been opened only briefly last year), parents across Scotland have had to find new ways of getting adequate childcare and navigating home-schooling, while also having to work.
Lack of human contact
This is probably the most profound consequence of the lockdown restrictions, as it is obviously the most effective in terms of preventing the spread of the virus. Realistically any contact with friends or family has to be avoided. Restrictions on travel to and from Scotland have caused many of us with loved ones outwith the country to have missed out on spending time with them in person for almost a year. Working from home feels all the more isolated with such a lack of contact with others.
Focusing on work during a pandemic
This is perhaps the most obvious problem but seems not to be mentioned specifically quite so much. Continuing to work full time when the world around you is changing day by day is just hard. Hearing the daily case numbers and deaths on the news, co-ordinating your own needs (have you missed the time limit on that supermarket delivery slot, is it safe to do the shopping yourself?), checking in on family and friends and worrying about them when they have to go out, wondering if your job really is as secure as you think – all of this is draining, even in the best case where you are not directly affected by the virus.
Over the past 10 months there has been a growing bank of guidance on how to protect or improve your mental health, and many employers have offered increased access to support. There are some simple tips which can make a difference day to day set out below, but where formal support is offered it’s really important to consider using it.
Setting a strict working routine which mirrors your previous office routine is really important to create some kind of work/life separation and balance. Setting a start and finish time, a lunchtime and even a lunchtime or end-of-day activity, like a walk, can help you mentally switch from home to work mode. Think about whether your work set-up can be packed away each day if you don’t have a separate work space.
Use tech to stay in contact
While we can’t have the usual office chats we can use the technology which makes it possible for us to keep in touch with colleagues informally. While we should all be communicating with our own teams and supervisors on a more formal basis, we should make an effort to “speak” with others we don’t work directly with. Working relationships with colleagues are important and we shouldn’t lose sight of that just because we are not physically in their presence.
Zoom fatigue may have got the better of some of us by now but we can still phone, email, text and instant message!
Picking up an extra hobby or two is never a bad thing at any time, but when there are restrictions on leaving our own homes it’s even more important to have something to occupy our time. Making time to do something non-work related outwith working hours also helps to separate work and home life.
Get outside when possible
This may be more of a personal preference but being outdoors even for a few minutes can make a huge difference to mood and energy levels. The surroundings aren’t all that important, but being outside and physically active is a powerful way to recharge or just re-set your brain a bit.
Communicate with your employer – they can be flexible!
Particularly where childcare or home-schooling is involved, flexible working hours can be figured out with your employer. It can be hard to put your hand up and admit you need help but it will come as no surprise to any manager or supervisor just now to find out that one of their employees is struggling to manage under these conditions, and they will likely already have advice or resources ready.
Be kind to yourself
Finally, and most importantly, give yourself a break! If you have managed to work consistently throughout 2020 and now into 2021, you have endured an extremely unsettling time. Now is a good time to reflect on what changes you could make for the coming year to make life easier, but it’s equally important to reflect on what you already managed to do under difficult circumstances.
Blog by Shona Cocksedge, Solicitor