With workers trickling back to the office, this week we're looking at how the pandemic has impacted the workforce in different ways.

It’s art imitating your daily commute

With white collar armies preparing to re-enter the office, we’re investigating how employees can boost their productivity.

Tim Wood

Creative

Learning organisation

5 minute read

Are you working from home? Over the past few months, many of us have been. As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to evolve, some employers have already signalled they will continue to give staff a choice about where they work, even as restrictions ease. Love it or hate, working from home is here to stay. But here’s the question – does it work for you?
In short
  • Your dreaded commute was often enhancing your productivity.
  • Creating third space could help you control your work-life balance, especially when working from home.
  • Short tasks can be all that's needed to transition and improve your headspace. 
When life imitates art
While it’s undoubtably more convenient to skip the commute and work in your PJs (video cameras off, of course) it turns out that conflating these two spaces – home and work – can mentally tax you in unexpected ways. Join me in the art gallery as i elaborate...

One day not long ago, my wife and I thought we’d spend a few precious hours – between school drop off and pick up – getting ‘some culture’. But as we started to amble around the art gallery something strange happened to me. As a creative director, my job often involves looking at creative things and making quick decisions about whether those things are any good or not.

After three minutes, my wife was still standing in front of the first painting she’d come to, you know, enjoying it. But not me. I was up already up to my fifth, having thoroughly critiqued the previous four while making a series of mental notes about what I liked and didn’t. At this point I stopped myself – I was being a creative director. I didn’t go there to critique the art, but I found myself doing it unconsciously because I was in the wrong headspace.

Now, as strange as it sounds, this is where my trip to the art gallery imitates your daily commute.
Let me introduce you to the third space
There’s a growing body of research into something called the ‘third space’. Let me summarise, the first place is where you are right now. The second is where you’re going next, which makes the third space the transition between the two. Simple enough. Turns out that your daily commute was doing something other than frustrating you with traffic.

Whether we realised it or not, physically travelling between home and work gave our brains a signal to switch modes. And importantly, it allowed time for it to happen. Working from home means we literally step from home into work, and vice versa. Turns out, this isn’t such a good idea. Like my art gallery experience demonstrates, when you use an inappropriate mode of thinking, things quickly go awry. Obviously this isn’t a big deal at the art gallery. But using the wrong mindset at work, or home, can have serious impacts on things like productivity, stress, and relationships.

“Whether we realised it or not, physically travelling between home and work gave our brains a signal to switch modes.”

So, what’s to be done?
Firstly, be aware you need time to transition mentally. Who you are at home is different to who you are at work; we all need time to switch. This is especially true if you’ve had a particularly challenging day. Secondly, schedule time between home and work. Some people go for a walk; a pseudo commute. But it could be as simple as spending ten minutes doing a crossword, or reading something interesting (but not related to work or home). Anything that lets you mentally ‘put down’ what you’ve been doing before you move on.

With practise, everyone can find their own third place routine. Remember, you need to allow time for each transition. And getting ready for work might need a different approach to finishing it. Overall, it’s a simple strategy to help make working from home, work better. Plus, it also comes in handy if you’re planning a trip to the art gallery. Believe me, I know.

on blending work and play
Add the word ‘staycation’ to your vocabularies. The normalisation of flexible remote working coupled with renewed travel allowances could see employees exploring their newfound freedom to work from anywhere. From the sunny beaches of Byron to cozy Kiwi cabins, popular holiday destinations are set to attract the most wanderlustful of white-collar workers.

Power to the people
Burnoutthe result of unmanaged chronic workplace stress.

It is also the top reason many workers are preparing to leave their jobs. Out of 25 countries, Australian office workers are the most burnt out, with 52% having taken time off during lockdown to care for their mental health. A lack of separation between work and home, longer working hours and the need to be always on has contributed to this feeling of burnout. Analysis by Microsoft of their Teams app found that people are sending 42% more chats after hours with 50% responding within 5 minutes or less.

But as the job market stabilises, so too does the negotiating power of the people. Employees have the upper hand and they're coming to the table demanding two things; pay and wellbeing.

Here is the impact summed up by HR platform Employment Hero’s recent survey of 1,000 Australian office workers:

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