We’re not just working from home. We’re finding a completely different way to work around life.
After months of remote working, everyone is finding a way to balance their personal and professional lives – often blending the two by bringing ‘one self’ to work. Some have easily adjusted to the ‘new normal,’ but working from home creates a myriad of distractions (kids, lack of desk space, the fridge) that interrupt flow and deep work. It also doesn’t allow for in-person brainstorms and working sessions, or impromptu office chats that produce those ‘a-ha!’ moments.
Right now, you and your team might be experiencing forgetfulness, acute fatigue, or brain-fog (all commonly reported during these unprecedented times). This is especially felt during creative problem solving, decision-making and ideation.
The contemporary office space was designed to maximize productivity and creativity. Without it, how can you achieve this or anticipate your people’s workflow and identify opportunities for improvement?
Here are Daggerwing’s three ways to reinstate productivity and creativity while your team is working from home:
1. REFRAME THE PROBLEM
The problem is not you, your team, or a collapse of your organization’s work ethic. Everybody’s brains are desperately trying to make sense and order out of rapid change. At the same time, we’re performing tasks that are mutually exclusive during a neurologically threatened state.
Understandably, our brains perceive this COVID-induced scramble of uncertainty and unpredictability as a serious existential threat. That’s why our pre-frontal cortex, which is responsible for executive function, shuts down and our limbic system takes over. The limbic system helps us stay alive in a threatening situation, but at a cost. We shift to tunnel-vision, letting go of the non-essential neurological functions. Our ability to make careful decisions decreases, as does our ability to empathize, collaborate and think creatively.
What can you do to protect yourself and your team?
Simply, reframe how you perceive and talk about change. With this shift, you and your people will become more agile and adaptable – performing better in creative and innovative tasks.
Try this: If someone you manage is feeling overwhelmed, ask them to define how they feel and what is causing this stress. They can articulate this aloud or write it down. What matters is that they label and acknowledge the irritation. Then, ask them to allow space and revisit these feelings at the end of the day or the following morning. If you think they’d benefit from a reset, suggest a short walk outside or a similar activity. The idea is to help form a new habit, so the next time they’re feeling overwhelmed they think: “When I feel this, I will do this”.
Freeing up mental capacity from stress can help build autonomy and capacity to tackle focused, creative and productive work.
2. CULTIVATE A HOME WORKING MINDSET
Everyone has a different home set-up. Creating that perfect work from home space may not be practical, but creating a better work from home mindset is achievable.
Perhaps your people suddenly find themselves perched at a tiny desk, working from their bedroom. Maybe they’re trying to balance the competing needs of work and family life. Either way, it all adds up to feeling more tired than usual, and less able to do more than cover the basics.
Suddenly, we all need to let go of previous expectations around productivity, long periods of engagement, motivation and focus. We need to understand, as leaders and teams, that we must adapt to what productive and creative means now.
Try this: Encourage your people to create a new routine fit for their new work from home environment. Set a goal of short periods of peak performance, and use the Pomodoro Technique to set ‘sprints’ of focused work. Ask your team to map their creative tasks to their most productive and energetic moments of the day. You’ll know their new routine is working when you find they’re more able to take a creative approach to things.
3. FIND THE SWEET SPOT OF CONNECTIVITY
Human relationships, co-working patterns and social contact all play into our ability to work as a high-functioning team. When in-office teams went remote overnight, the initial message was connect, connect, connect. Social rejection or exclusion (the experience of feeling left out) activate the same part of our brain as physical pain (the dorsal part of our anterior cortex), so when we were ordered to socially isolate, our knee-jerk reaction was to fill our work and personal time with virtual replacements for face-to-face time: daily team calls, regular 1-on-1 coffee meetups, even exercising together but separately.
Five months in, video-call fatigue is real, with the BBC and The New York Times both examining this phenomenon. Back-to-back video calls during work and personal time leaves us overstimulated and exhausted by what feels like constant social interaction.
We lost a key element of human connection that lights up our creative mind: that ‘a-ha!’ moment, again. Also termed ‘third space communications,’ these organic, informal water-cooler interactions strengthen our relationships, our culture, and our performance as a team. These daily interactions may feel invisible, but their effect is not: our brains (the good old pre-frontal cortex again) perceive them as a reward. Our sense of psychological safety increases, and we feel empowered and emboldened to take on tasks that push our creative thinking and encourage us to take risks to better our work.
Try this: Use the sprint technique above to find a new rhythm of focus. Book a no-agenda chat with a colleague or dial into a video conference and work alone-together. These techniques will strengthen meaningful social ties with your team by creating a space for those organic water-cooler ‘a-ha’ creative breakthrough moments.
Remember to give yourself and your team time.
We have all been adapting rapidly to sudden change – change that would usually take years of planning. Already, we have transformed and the neuroplasticity of our brains has created efficient new pathways in a matter of months. While the future of working remains uncertain, it’s never been more important to keep making time for patience and understanding. The challenges we’re facing, both individually and as a collective, are tough. But together, we can overcome them.
For information on how Daggerwing Group can help, reach out to us at [email protected].