Returning to the ‘new normal’ won’t feel so normal after we’ve spent the last 18 months in this pseudo-temporary series of unknowns. While the future often felt uncertain, those of us fortunate enough to work remotely likely found a new work-life balance. We juggled the demands of constant Zoom calls with the benefits of a reduced commute, a flexible schedule, and control over our working environment.
It’s time to admit it. There are some elements of the pandemic work-life balance we’re going to miss, but they don’t have to go away entirely. Here are some tips to hold onto some of the remote work benefits you’ve gained over the past year—plus how to solve a problem you likely struggled with last year.
The benefit: A bigger focus on personal care
The public health crisis of COVID-19 amplified the importance of physical health and mental wellbeing in so many ways that didn’t even have to do with coronavirus. It forced us to redefine personal hygiene and discover untapped stressors. Plus, many of us were faced directly with grief, loneliness, and depression.
All of a sudden, simple things you may have overlooked before were now front and center in our lives and we were forced into caretaker roles for others and for ourselves.
How to maintain it: Check in on others
Maybe there is someone in your lives that lives alone. During the pandemic, we checked in on them and maybe even sent them packages or held video calls to see them. Continue to prioritize those simple check-ins to your loved ones—they can be so meaningful. Try setting a calendar reminder to make sure you check in on a regular basis!
How to maintain it: Protect yourself
There’s no such thing as ‘just a cold’ anymore. Pre-pandemic, people would go to work when they didn’t feel well, to avoid taking a sick day while putting others at risk. If you’re going back to the office, talk to your employer about flexible sick days. Maybe you can work from home on days that you aren’t feeling well, which puts less strain on your body and protects your colleagues. Also, remember that sick days exist for a reason. Make a commitment to yourself to take a sick day when you aren’t feeling your best—just to rest, recover, and decompress.
The benefit: Mid-day workouts
One of people’s favorite elements of working from home is the flexibility in their schedule. In an all-day office setting, it was difficult to get out to the gym in the middle of the day. There were probably times where a late meeting interrupted a fitness class.
How to maintain it: Block your calendar
Continue to prioritize your favorite workout or fitness routine by blocking out your calendar to protect it from disappearing. If you were able to squeeze in a quick ab routine between meetings at home, try to continue to make healthy decisions in the middle of your day, whether it’s leaving the office for a quick walk around the block, taking a walking meeting with a colleague, or getting to a gym for a quick workout. In some work settings, this may require a shift in culture to ensure that colleagues respect the calendar. This return to a better normal is the perfect time to kick off that culture!
The benefit: Agile collaboration
In the last 14 months, there’s a high likelihood that you used a new technology to connect with someone. You downloaded an app, set up a new account, or spoke with someone that you wouldn’t have otherwise met or reconnected with. This is often cited as another favorite element of this shift in how we live and work.
How to maintain it: Find new ways to share ideas
Just because we’re able to see each other in person again, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t lean into the tools that helped us to collaborate more effectively, efficiently, or globally. Whether in your work life or personal life, don’t forget about these tools or get complacent with how they’re used. Ask your employer to continue to pilot new technologies and softwares, even if the company adopts a more in-person culture again. Many of these technology companies offer free trials, so connect with a colleague to test a new one and share your experience with it. This will help your employer continue to innovate, stay fresh, and promote a continued flexible working environment.
The benefit: Getting comfortable with imperfection
COVID created some weird, “only in COVID Era” situations. We all had our share of clunky video calls, slow internet, and “you’re on mute” meetings. We got comfortable with sharing a piece of our personal lives in new ways through video backgrounds, home schooling, dogs barking, bad hair days, and everything in between. Even the Oscars couldn’t quite perfect a seamless production.
But somehow, all of those things were okay. We were all forgiving of this imperfection because our entire society was facing the challenge together. COVID provided a safe space for people to be themselves and provide space for imperfection.
How to maintain it: Forgive and forget
We cannot lose this forgiving spirit when we ‘return to normal.’ We must continue to accept others, always giving them the benefit of the doubt and we must also allow ourselves to be imperfect as well. This requires continuous check-ins with yourself, allowing bad hair days, sick days for mental or physical health, and recognizing that sometimes you may have priorities that take precedent over work. While it takes time to get comfortable with imperfection, you will be mentally and physically more resilient for it.
The struggle: Unplugging after a long day
During COVID when you were at home all of the time, it was more difficult than ever to unplug or separate yourself from work life and personal life. However, it was also more important than ever to unplug and create that mental separation, even if you couldn’t have the physical separation. If this wasn’t your strong suit and you ended up responding to emails in the late evening or early morning, now is the time to change that behavior.
The fix: Reinvent your routine
If you’re back in an office, traveling, or meeting people in-person, try to avoid getting back to your computer as soon as you get home. Avoid falling into the routine of maintaining a constant connection after a long day of in-person meetings. Since it’s been a while, you might recognize the stress, anxiety, and strain that traveling puts on your body. Just because you were ‘out’ doesn’t mean you weren’t working. Be kind to yourself, remembering that you may not get to every email in your inbox that day like you used to when you were at home.