Gone are the days when 6 o’clock means happy hour for us; when we’d all go out of work together and head down to a sidewalk pub for some bottles of local beer and a plate of peanuts. With Vietnamese people’s “sense of family” at work, colleagues easily become constant companions even beyond office hours. There’s that feeling of belongingness, of having a solid support system, and people to lean on when the going gets tough — like getting scolded by the team leader.
But with the pandemic forcing us to work at the confines of our homes, we found ourselves unprepared for physical separation, for the disruption of face-to-face communications and the lack of easy and accessible support we used to have in our offices.
Working from home has brought a lot of challenges that no one was ready for, says My Holland, an expert in positive psychology and neuroleadership. “Here in Vietnam, when you’re in the office, you know that you have that access to ‘family bonding’ when you need it. But now that everyone’s working remotely, we seem to be disconnected, physically and emotionally. And this comes out in the form of stress or feeling burned out.”
While it’s true that having the opportunity to earn while keeping ourselves safe, or still having a job for that matter, is a rare blessing amidst today’s troubled world, it exudes a different level of anxiety and exhaustion that caught us all by surprise. And then there’s the persistent feeling of guilt for not doing enough, for not being as productive as we were back in the office, for calling in sick. Navigating through this new paradigm of working and living in the same constricted space can be a difficult process for most.
Having worked with many startups and SMEs in Vietnam on leadership consulting and on work resilience and happiness, My Holland shares her expert insights on surviving and coping with work from home pressure.
Practice energy and mindset management
It’s not just about time management anymore. Before, we had to time our every move, when to wake up, take a shower, eat breakfast, commute to work and all the things that go with working on-site. But now that we are doing everything in one space, transitioning between our personal and professional lives becomes complicated; thus, the need to truly manage our energy and mindset — to know when to do what, and how to properly allocate our resources to accomplish tasks.
“As we transition to an entirely different work rhythm, our mindset and energy also need to along with that change. And it’s a lot harder, actually. Because unlike managing time, these two things can’t be checked or evaluated by others. You’re accountable for where you put your energy and mind into. When managed well, you’ll adjust to your new routine quickly, keeping your focus on the task at hand.”
Unblur that work-life line
This has been written and said multiple times over, but it remains true: we have the power to draw a defined line that separates our career and personal life. By simply identifying a space exclusively for work, and setting a time when work starts and ends, we establish that needed boundary we so struggle to attain.
“What we wanted the most about working from home before was that we could wear casual clothes and not put too much effort on dressing up. But right now, as this pandemic drags on, people don’t want casual anymore. They now feel the need to really define when it’s time to work, and when it’s not.”
“For people who find it hard to set a clear physical boundary between work and normal lives, they need to have that transition phase, which before, was the time when we commute to work. With that gone, we only have that distance from the bed to the work desk. It can be just two meters or even less, but it’s an essential part of setting that line between those different facets of who you are, as an employee and as a person.”
Take ‘brain breaks’
For many, even a 30-minute break can mean they’re already missing about three hours’ worth of work. The moment one rises up from the work desk, the feeling of guilt automatically ensues: what if we miss an important WhatsApp message that needs an urgent response? What if we miss a deadline? What if I’d seem ‘lazy and unproductive’ for not being at my work desk?
“Feeling guilty for not being productive or not doing enough is a sign that you care about your job. But it doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to take a break and rest. It’s crucial. Get a glass of water or practice mindfulness. When you feel well and energized, you can create a great presentation in just four hours. But when you’re tired, you’d end up working for a whole day and still get typos and errors. So, always grab that chance to re-energize yourself.”
Be vulnerable. Accept help.
At a time like this, when everything is uncertain and circumstance can take a complete turn at any given moment, showing vulnerability is the last thing we want, especially at work. We all strive to prove our value, and the worth of the job we do, so we say ‘yes’ to every task no matter how loaded we already are.
But here’s the thing. The pandemic has also shown how fragile we all are, and how much we need help even when we don’t say it out loud. So it’s okay to turn down requests or not take on more work than we can handle.
“There really are times when you don’t feel good, when you feel that something’s wrong with you especially when you see how happy people are on Facebook and on social media. When you feel like you’re struggling to focus on your work. But it’s hard for us to show that side of us, when we’re not in our best selves. The truth is, we don’t need to be strong all the time. If we really want to feel cared for, we need to open up. The more we do, the more people would listen and extend their hands to help. Showing vulnerability takes tremendous courage, but it’s a big step each one of us should take. There’s nothing wrong with asking and accepting help from others. There are a lot of debates about showing vulnerability, but for me, it’s the ultimate key to connection, especially when things are tough.”
Yes, we are entitled to take leave of absence or call in sick.
We are allowed to not open our laptops and check emails when we are sick — even when we're just working from home. We all should know by now why our health should come first, no matter what.
“Remember that you’re human. People always forget this and ignore feelings of exhaustion. You are human, and your body gets sick. Because we’re all so afraid of being left behind or being told we’re not doing enough, we take on tasks even when we’re already overloaded, which then results in us getting sick. The moment you feel that you’re exhausted or that you need a break, ask for it.”
“It’s okay to not go to that pathway that you know would damage you eventually. I think that’s courage. People should understand that they have the choice: to suck it all up (which is what’s usually expected of us) or pause momentarily. A good organization that understands what you’re going through or why you’re taking a day off won’t push you to work or judge you for asking a break.”