Some of these newly formed habits will tend to stay on with us. There will be things that we repeat, some we will give up along the way.
Earlier this week, we just crossed the 49-day mark of the national lockdown and give or take a few days, most office establishments announced the ‘work from home’ policy. Employees around the country have gone through unique personal experiences during WFH, where personal and professional space merged to form new habits, patterns, learnings, observations and experiences. Much of it has been stressful and annoying. Equally, physical proximity and access to loved ones has perhaps neutralised the anxiety and toxicity of work-related interactions.
Forty-nine days is of significance when it comes to the subject of human condition. Many of us have involuntarily or otherwise, adopted new practices, we have created space in our mind for them. For instance, sitting regularly in a demarcated space for a Zoom call. Some of us have also made the necessary adjustments in our environment to accommodate new habits, such as an adjustment in our time schedule. As per the Yogic system, 48-49 days (Mandala) is what it takes time for the mind and body to be tuned to new patterns.
Some of these newly formed habits will tend to stay on with us. There will be things that we repeat, some we will give up along the way. The strong ones, with our intent, can form a firm impression in our neural pathways and the only way to integrate them into our daily life is to keep repeating them until they become default settings.
Here are seven things I am going to keep with me and take them along, when I return to office post-lockdown:
1. Do-it-yourself: Engaging in several household tasks in between work, including cleaning up, doing the dishes and other kitchen duties has not only helped therapeutically, but also helped polish basic skills and created a sense of empowerment and self-dependence to do tasks that would otherwise be delegated.
2. Respect for personal space: One of the biggest banes of open-office plans is the absence of soundproof walls around each one of us; culturally we are conditioned to accept and ignore the din around us as white noise. Unaware of our own sound levels, some of us are over-audible while on calls; we find it perfectly normal to walk up to anyone’s workstation and start a conversation, not realising that we could be disturbing their thought process. WFH has made us conscious about boundaries with elders or babies sleeping in adjacent rooms; spouses working in the same room and sharing the same wi-fi; any instance of involuntary encroachment is met with instant feedback.
3. Seat glue: Zoom, Webex and MS Teams meetings ensured I stayed visible, ‘in-frame’ therefore relevant to the context. While I complain of a frozen neck (cultural anthropologists should term it ‘Zoom Neck’ and get consulting assignments) I do feel I have largely stuck to agenda and duration, forced to give up my fidgety habit of getting up, walking around and consuming precious executive time. These calls gave little room for getting up and walking away to do multi-tasking and that is a shame, but yes, I experienced some benefits. So, no more distractions and impulsive coffee-machine walks, will try and perch with all essentials next to myself prior to the meeting.
4. Minimise munchies, eat healthy: Eating on time has returned as a habit, since the whole family was around and kitchen had to wrapped up, unlike a running cafeteria, ready to cater to cravings anytime. Also, due to lockdown and supply constraints many of us wouldn’t have stocked the pantry with unhealthy snacks, which now will be a very clear a watch out as I get back to office.
5. Horizontal breaks: The virtues of a short afternoon nap have always been widely acknowledged as a productivity booster so long as it doesn’t turn into the legendary Spanish ‘Siesta’. Daytime sleep is known to have mediated and reduced cardiovascular stress in people. The ready availability of a horizontal space such as a couch, bed or simply a clean floor made napping through WFH possible. I am carrying a Yoga mat to work and finding a flat space or a corner in the conference room - to take that horizontal break is definitely on my return-to-office list.
6. Creativity kit: Some of us made Dalgona coffee, some created memes, some of us doodled away with our children’s box of crayons. Some of us sang on Smule. Some starred in Tik Tok. The joy of discovering another empowering facet of self is unparalleled; it opens up exciting new possibilities where one imagines the self in various avatars, beyond a narrow role definition that the workplace environment tends to stifle you in. The trick is to figure out where and how one will take that creativity break while at work. I am carrying the paint tubes, brushes and Play-Doh to office.
7. Nature gazing: The frequent trips to the window or balcony to gaze at the unusually blue sky; listen to the happy chirping birds and observe the changing colour of leaves between spring and summer. We have perhaps experienced sunrise to sunset in one location and the light play changing shadows at home only as toddlers. One could have done this at the workplace too; but the eagerness to be constantly productive, or at least to appear so has robbed us of this simple, primal and immensely soul-nourishing practice. While smoke breaks are regarded as stress busters elicit understanding and management empathy, walks around the office building or sitting in a corner are often judged as acts of distraction. I wouldn’t care about that anymore.
Overall, it has been an interesting and insightful time to observe oneself from the outside, trying to perform multiple roles within the same physical space. Office or workplace is an arena, where one is constantly engaged in proving one’s worth; our primary responses to interactions are driven by multiple emotions akin to that of a warrior in a battle-ground; home is a space where the self is nourished, nurtured and healed with the loved ones around. The intertwining of these two distinct performance stages for the actor was initially met with confusion, with very little time and space to interchange the masks we wear daily- but practice seems to have made us somewhat better and centred.
(The author is Executive Director, TBWA India. The article was first published on the author’s personal blog on LinkedIn and has been reproduced with permission.)