Perfecting Isolation in a Time of COVID
When we ushered in the new decade on 31 December 2019, few of us could have imagined that our lives in 2020 would change so drastically.
In a flurry, we went from our normal lives into a circuit breaker and were forced to adapt to a work from home situation. Aided by the technological solutions at our disposal, the digital transformation of most of our work was spearheaded by none other than the COVID-19 virus.
We now sign documents online, meet clients through Zoom, and even conduct courtroom hearings virtually.
A few months on, most of us have adapted to the new normal of working from home and the work from home situation is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
But no working environment is without its own set of problems and moving forward, it is important to identify some of the more significant problems that will require a constant and conscious effort to overcome.
Procrastination Always Lurks Around the Corner
It is an amazing feeling to be able to get out of your bed at 8.50am to start work at 9 but there’s also always the risk that you might just end up lying in it until 11.
Coupled by the fact that there isn’t really any one around to make sure work gets done, staying motivated and productive is one of the biggest challenges of working from home.
Even the best of us experience “off days”. In the past, we would drag ourselves to the office and force ourselves to get work done anyway. But the reality now is that our sofas or beds are literally in the next room and it is much easier to procrastinate and be less productive.
Which is why work management software exists. With technology at our disposal, gone are the days of post-it notes and calendar pads; instead we now have kanban boards and real-time collaborative working.
Keeping track of tasks may seem like a very intuitive action that you can perform in your own head but there actually are profound effects when they are put down and visualized. Some of the benefits of keeping a checklist of tasks are:
- Listing your tasks for the day and coming up with a schedule adds structure to your day. Following a structure to get work done is much more productive than completely going with the flow.
- There are some tasks that require input from your colleagues before continuing. Listing them down helps remind you to come back to the task.
- Knowing how many tasks you have at any point helps you figure out how much ad hoc work you can really take on. It is important not to commit to too much work and get burned out.
- Moving tasks to a “done” folder gives you a dopamine boost that helps keep your motivation levels up throughout the day.
Some companies have already integrated such technology to keep track of their employees’ work, with the more advanced platforms being able to track task dependencies, which in turn helps employees keep track of the tasks they need to complete.
But these platforms should also be applied on a personal level for one big reason.
Unlike adapting to new forms of communication or obtaining e-signatures, maintaining productivity at home is a challenge that does not get easier over time.
In the office, we have colleagues around to push each other but in isolation, the burden falls solely on each of us. And with such simple yet valuable technology at our fingertips, we should make the most of it and integrate it into our daily lives.
Texts Don’t Convey the Full Message
Communication is the key to any relationship in life, and workplace communication is perhaps the most important factor that makes a company work. The beauty of communication technology has been its ability to connect people who are miles apart at a second’s interval.
In the past, the circuit breaker measures that had everyone trapped at home would have broken most companies’ ability to function. But thankfully, we get to keep our jobs because technology has enabled us to send each other messages in real time and e-signatures have become a commonplace thing.
Team meetings and conferences are now held online, with functions such as screen sharing and file sharing helping to mimic physical meetings and the most important feature, virtual backgrounds, enabling us to hide how messy our rooms really are from our colleagues.
The lack of social interaction that accompanied the circuit breaker measures was mitigated by the abundance of solutions available to remain connected with each other. Granted, there might be those who would rather have been unconnected from their boss but being able to stay connected with friends and colleagues has undoubtedly helped keep the feeling of isolation at bay.
As it seems increasingly likely that working from home will continue, relaying instructions or requesting information via text has become and will continue to be the new normal, which brings us to the next issue.
When we communicate with others, the tone of voice, body language, and words we use hold equal weights in delivering the message. Over text, the burden of delivery falls solely onto the words we use and messages can be interpreted very differently by the receiver compared to the intention of the sender.
One of the biggest shortcomings of text communication is the potential to cause misunderstandings and cause friction between colleagues. And considering it might not be possible to always give your colleague a call whenever you want to relay a message, it is of utmost importance to remember: don’t jump to conclusions if a particular message seems aggressive. Always try to clarify doubts over a call instead of taking your one-sided interpretation as the reality.
Networking Events are Dead (for Now)
Despite the above-mentioned technologies helping to bridge the gap, there is no real substitute for being able to walk 10 seconds to a colleague or mentor in the office to get guidance on a problem that you have. In the past, talking to a senior about approaching a problem after office hours or going for a drink with colleagues after work to discuss the day’s work seemed natural. With everyone working from home now, sending a work-related text after office hours can seem like you are intruding on their personal time, even if you are just seeking advice.
On a similar note, with networking and business development events coming to a standstill, such efforts have been reduced to online efforts. This is not to say that online networking is impossible, but we are all aware of the effectiveness of cold e-mails and unwanted LinkedIn requests. Getting on a Zoom call is an acceptable substitute for meeting for a coffee but there are only a limited number of avenues to meet a variety of individuals and network.
And this is why the importance of platforms that allow users to engage each other to seek guidance or discuss potential issues with like-minded individuals has been amplified. Such platforms leverage on technology to build an ecosystem of users that support and share knowledge with each other. They are platforms where users can approach others knowing that these users are open to sharing their knowledge. The beauty of such ecosystems are that they:
- Connect individuals from all over, each with their own unique skill set. Being a part of such ecosystems means being able to connect with these users both online, through platforms such as Zoom, and even offline, by setting up one-on-one meetings, to discuss issues and share knowledge with each other.
- Enable cross-border communication. People from all around the world can be part of the ecosystem. Of course, taking cross-border connections offline would be a tall order during the time of COVID-19 but it certainly does not take away the insights and perspectives that you can gain from a Zoom conversation with them.
- Compared to approaching someone on a professional site, not knowing whether you will even get a reply, the nature of such ecosystems fosters casual environments where users feel comfortable approaching each other for help and advice.
- They are an avenue for socializing. Maintaining our mental health during these difficult times is something that we should place emphasis on. Meeting like-minded people who share similar interests and hobbies to chat and interact with contributes immensely to keeping us from burning out.
The reality is that there is no real end to the pandemic in sight, thus adapting and utilizing available platforms to connect with others is something that we must all get used to.
Technology, by Itself, is Not the Answer
We are lucky to live in a time where technology has advanced enough to provide us with solutions to tide us over this difficult period. However, these technological solutions, like all things, are not perfect.
Despite its name, the truth is that technology is an enabler that empowers us to perform the tasks we need. It has provided us with the means to remain motivated, mitigated the blow of isolation by helping us remain connected, and empowered us to work in collaboration with each other even from the confines of our homes.
It is now up to us to marry the technology at our disposal with our own motivation, awareness, and adaptability to perfect a system that works for ourselves to overcome the issues we face in this new normal.