The pandemic has caused us to become nostalgic as we reflect on our pre COVID life. It feels a lifetime away, where each person had plans sprinkled with the usual life stresses and strains. Unique to us, but common to many. Now, globally, the world will always be connected over one enormous fact. The COVID pandemic has changed our lives forever.
Everyone will always remember the year 2020, the year our past lives stopped and we stumbled into our current reality – home to the new norm.
Working from home (WFH) has always been a concept for many earning a living in an office based job, but for most it was seen as a privilege or to be used in exceptional scenarios. Now WFH is normal.
Our homes are now also our work office. Makeshift offices created in kitchens, spare rooms, bedrooms or lounges with pop up desk areas, surrounded by our real life trinkets.
Some enjoy the flexibility it brings. You are home to collect the online purchase delivery, you can use your ‘lunch hour’ to prep dinner or complete a little housework, listen to your favourites tunes or podcast and wear the comfiest of clothes. It feels like a work retreat. You are working from a laptop, sandwiched around the comforts of your life. A collision of ‘I’ve got work to do’ seriousness, layered with the fun, cosy, nurturing feelings your home brings.
It is hard to explain, it all just feels wrong. To me, I am a little old school. The office is for work. And my home is my retreat, the escape from work. They two don’t mingle, ever.
The advantages of the WFH lifestyle are at the expense of something pretty big. Something so big it is hard to truly quantify. That one thing is connection, human connection. By WFH, we have removed an enormous chunk of human connection which is vital for our mental wellbeing. We have always been part of a tribe, where we receive validation and dopamine (the reward chemical that makes us feel connected to something) by being part of a community. Without regular human connection, we can feel lost or missing in action.
The office environment cultivated the tribe ‘collective’ energy. Good or bad, there was ways someone to connect with. Share a human experience. Feel part of something bigger than the thoughts in our heads.
Let’s look at how life once was and delve into our lost world of connection.
The alarm clock set, a non-negotiable wake up time as your morning is defined by the time you need to arrive into the office and the designated train that will make that arrival possible.
The same morning routine executed each morning, and although you could execute the morning routine with your eyes shut, you always seem to dash for the train. The train run dash, delivering a rush of ‘I am alive’ endorphins, before squashing yourself onto the overcrowded train as you slide into the last space possible. Grateful to have made the train, with your podcast playing allowing your mind to wake up ready for the working day. You glance into your bag to note all the snacks packed for the work day.
You are ready to take on the work day! You’ve left the safety of your home and you are outside in the ‘real’ world.
On the train, everyone guards their space, most people on their phones or the odd person reading an actual book. Old school. At each train stop, you stay rooted in your spot, making eye contact with the new train arrivals. The quick glance eye contact signalling ‘this is my spot, find your own spot. I’m not budging as there is nowhere to budge to’. Ahh human connection.
As you glance out the window you take a deep breath as your stop arrives is in sight. You eek out the last of the podcast as you walk into the office entrance and climb the steps to your floor. More endorphins released. Your body and mind flowing with life, your cheeks blushed with the morning freshness.
As you step through the office floor door, a choir of ‘Good mornings’ greet you. Some people you know, others just part of the office morning ritual. We’ve been programmed, ‘Make eye contact, mutter morning, smile, remove eye contact’. Ahh human connection.
The first chatter of the morning, amplified on a Monday where there is a full weekend of catch ups. Then each subsequent morning, you catch up on the activities of the night before. ‘What was dinner’ chat, any first date chat, a bit of exercise chat, some TV chat. By Friday we focus the chat on the plans for the weekend – our two day escape from the office. More human connection, where you felt invested in peoples life’s. Sometimes the chat would escalate into deep therapy. One on one, or involving a collective. Sharing is caring, after all.
Your whole working day filled with the smells (guess people’s lunch), the sounds of other teams chat – remember overhearing other people’s chit chat – telephone meetings, desk discussions. Catching eye contact as you walk to the toilet, or pop to the water cooler to fill up you water bottle. The water cooler was always the spot where some unexpected office banter would be experienced. Sometimes a quick two minute connection, other times it would turn into a over chatty catch up. Ahh spontaneous human connection.
Then there would be an actual lunch break, a break in the office grind. An opportunity to escape and pop outside into fresh air. To run some errands, pop into the shops and, always, return with an afternoon coffee. The afternoon coffee was my ritual. It was always a signal we were heading into the afternoon, and the guy in the coffee shop was handsome. A handsome human connection in the middle of the day. Ahhh nostalgia. When we could gaze at others, forming a far away human connection.
And the afternoon coffee always set me up for the rest of day. Work would be intercepted with more chat, sometimes about actual work and other times simply chit chat. Someone’s thoughts. A chance to connect with your work colleagues, from your team or other teams. An opportunity for people to check in, vent or share what they needed to share. That is what human connection provides, a chance to be human. Unwind your thoughts..
You would glance at the wall clock knowing you were approaching the final stretch and the home-time countdown would commence. A sigh would arrive as you packed up for the day, your laptop switched off and locked away for tomorrow. Knowing as you left the office, you left all your work related thoughts in that office ready to enjoy freedom. Ready to head home – your retreat.
There was a clear boundary.
Office set as the environment to work. Your home where you were free to play on your terms. The two never collided.
Each night, I enjoyed an activity surrounded by other humans. Let’s see if we recognise any:
Monday ended with a visit to my personal trainers studio to lift and grunt for a hour while we also caught up on life. Mondays set me up for the week.
Tuesday always ended with a mega dreamy vinyasa flow yoga session, surrounded by other like-minded souls. An opportunity to switch off and transition from work to home life.
Then Wednesday became my highlight. A cookery class with a mixed bag of humans from all walks of life, where we would take on two recipes in the space of two hours. Ahh bliss.
Thursday, the chance for some late night shopping surrounded by the other browsers before the weekend arrived.
My life filled with so much human connection. Some real and some passing. Sometimes that is all we need, a passing human to stir us out of our heads!
Now we are left with our work life in our homes. No boundaries and very little human contact. No train ride scramble, instead we stroll from our bedroom to the makeshift office area. No chorus of good morning – instead there is the silence. The spontaneous chat at the water cooler lost in time and night time activities now feel a luxury. It still feels we are locked at home, until the virus disappears.
But what about out human instinct, the real connection we so sadly miss, what happens if that disappears? Time will only tell.
For now, monitor your levels of human connection. If you live alone you can easily go days with no other human in person connection. To keep that human spirit alive here are some suggestions:
- Build in new human connection. Yes, our environments have changed, seek out connection from different sources. Chat to the delivery person, your neighbour or simply say morning to those you may pass in your neighbourhood. Don’t feel a burden or weird. It’s normal to share a passing connection, whether it’s non verbal (eye contact or a smile) or verbal.
- Enjoy nature as soon as you can in your working day. Schedule in a pre work walk, run or cycle to connect with nature and feel awake, and alive. Part of the world.
- Signal the end of your work day to your mind and body – pop on a song, some movement or meditation. Remove all evidence of your makeshift work environment if you use a shared space (i.e. store away your laptop).
- Keep to core work hours, where possible. Maintain your work / life boundaries so your downtime is dedicated to you with no work worries.
- Tell yourself this isn’t final and make the most the current situation. One day we will be back in the office and won’t be able to listen to our music full blast, while replying to an email and making out favourite lunch.
- Bring joyful moments back into your day and connect to a community – either in person or virtual. Yoga, book clubs, cooking challenges are all waiting for you!
As we try to drone out the pandemic we need to plug back into human connection.