It was easy to change. Because we just had to do it. From one day to the next, our workplaces were no longer regular offices. Instead we have been working from home offices, kitchen tables, bedrooms, couches and other more or less comfortable spaces. The pandemic forced that change upon us. And we understood it and accepted it. Yes, at some point it was also a feeling of commitment, like “we’re all in this together” – kind of a teambuilding activity.
And then it was not easy. It became dull. Sometimes lonely. It is harder to bring out creativity when feeling less connected and not as energetic as before. I’m speaking from my own experiences and multiple meetings I have had with clients and colleagues. We have not yet seen the results of the working life of the pandemic from real “thick” scientific longitudinal studies. But I can guess; many of us liked the autonomy, some of us were frustrated because we did not have the right technology or working conditions at home, many of us missed colleagues and some social activities, few missed the commuting and a lot of people are now feeling a bit burned out coming back to work.
So what have we learned? Since mid-March 2020, the coronavirus pandemic has changed the way many of us live, work and how activities are conducted in society. We have of course experienced many different things. The most obvious lesson learned is that the limitation of in-person meetings has brought about a rapid and comprehensive digital transformation. But what else? The pandemic work life forced upon us changed our daily routines. Routines can be seen as efficient solutions to previous problems. We shape routines because it makes us in many ways more free; we don’t have to think of every step we take, we just need to rely on good routines and use our brains for better (or more demanding) things. Our old pre-pandemic routines were not efficient in our new working-from-home situation so we had to create new routines. Now, as we move back to offices or to some kind of hybrid solution, we’ll need to shape new routines again that help us through the day – and that will take some time and effort. We need to understand and accept that.
The daily rhythm was shaken by the pandemic. Days and weeks were floating together into a mush. We missed old routines and rituals, and without them, the rhythm of the days and the year was lost. I’ve heard several people saying it’s hard to know if it’s Tuesday or Thursday. Spring or fall. Lunchtime or not. We need to find a rhythm that is suitable in this new kind of working situation (yes, I do think we’ll have more hybrid work patterns). Which routines and rituals did you really miss? Which relieved you? Timing is everything and now is the time to be thinking much more carefully about the rhythm, routines and rituals of your days and weeks. We now have a tremendously massive opportunity to redesign our daily lives.
To do that - give yourself time for reflection. I’ve noticed that a lot of people now have had the time to reflect on how they want to live their lives. Some are changing jobs, moving houses or are just convinced to do certain things a little bit differently. Don’t stress it. Have the courage to take things down a notch, and take some time out to reflect on what is really important. Don’t be so busy acting that you forget to keep reflecting. Over time, I have become more convinced that the best way to manage expectations, develop oneself and have a healthy relationship with what occupies the greater part of our waking hours – work, is through structured conversations (with yourself, a friend or someone you trust) involving self-reflection. This kind of conversation provides the opportunity to develop a greater understanding of one’s own work and of the challenges of working life. In this context, philosophy, which is also the foundation of existential therapy, can be helpful. Even those who are not particularly interested in reading the original texts of philosophers can benefit from their ideas in their own personal development.
Some time ago, I read a blog by David Brendel, a philosopher and psychiatrist, about how philosophy can provide guidance in one’s personal development. To do this, he suggests using the SANE method. I liked it because it’s so easy and hard at the same time. SANE draws on the key questions posed by pre-eminent Western philosophers: Socrates, Aristotle, Nietzsche and the Existentialists (SANE). These are the questions that we ought to be able to ask ourselves every so often:
Socrates: What is the most challenging question someone could ask me about my current approach?
Aristotle: What character virtues are most important to me and how will I express them?
Nietzsche: How will I direct my “will to power,” manage my self-interest, and act in accordance with my chosen values?
Existentialists (e.g., Sartre): How will I take full responsibility for my choices and the outcomes to which they lead?
Life and working life has many sources of frustration. Now – post-pandemic work life – is the time to reflect upon; what did I learn and how will that affect my future choices? In modern working life, which takes up such a big chunk of our waking hours, if we want to reduce frustration and negative stress, we need to have more conversations that reflect on what lies within the realms of the possible and the desired – in particular, to improve our chances of resilience and sustainable development for individuals as well as organisations. Now it’s time.