It is Monday morning. It is the month of October. The year is 2019. With much resistance, I have dragged myself out of my very snuggly and warm bed to get ready for work. I check my messages on my phone. Lift-club is not happening this week, so I have to drive myself to work. Someone has a tummy bug, so we better all be cautious, just in case… We finally leave the house; I drop off big and small living in my house for them to start the day. Then I join the river of cars in one of Johannesburg’s busiest roads which leads to the hub of the business centre. As I watch the car ahead of me, hypnotizing me with its brake lights, and Bruno Mars singing a fading “When I see your face…”, as the news bulleting commences on the radio station, I start praying. I find myself praying for the traffic – for it to stop – and go away – so that I can have a break – so that I can sleep late and have coffee in bed – so that I can wear my slippers all day and not comb my hair – so that I can have a sandwich on my couch and tea in my favourite cup by midday – so that I can pull my best friend called the laptop closer and start working at 14h00 – so that by 17h00 when daddy dearest arrive with all our offspring he can start supper while I take a pre-nocturnal nap – so that later I am fresh and ready to catch up and Binge a little on Netflix – AMEN! Please put up your hand if you can relate to my urgent outcry for deliverance as in my prayer above. Yes, I see your hand. I appreciate your honesty – thank you so much.
Now I had a very special Grandma. She said things the way they were. Many a time in my life, from her wise mouth I heard: “Be careful what you wish for dear. It may just come true”. I’ll give you one opportunity to guess where all South Africans (like myself) found ourselves on the 27th March 2020 after the big announcement from our president earlier that week? Yes, you are right. We all woke up to a VERY silent South Africa because the national lockdown regulations of the Covid Pandemic determined that for a few weeks in this country, no one will be going anywhere. If anyone were to go anywhere, they would be few in numbers and only really if it was essential. I could not believe my ears! It was like a dream come true – the very “traffic prayer” was answered!
With great excitement and disbelief, I joined the bandwagon of eager shoppers to stock up on groceries and other essentials in the house. My heart was racing as I chose item after item while trying to gauge how long each will last. Suddenly I had to cater for everyone’s individual needs. I also had to make sure that all the snacks and sweeties were exactly that which were requested. Eventually, the long-awaited day dawned. The national lockdown has begun. No walking in the streets allowed, no driving around, no visiting friends and family, no schooling and only working from home will be allowed unless you are an essential worker. This was too good to be true! The long-awaited break I was praying for – it is being answered! My dream of staying at home and having a break – it is actually coming true! Or so I thought…
Week one at home with my true love daddy dearest was awesome. I even shed a tear or two (of joy) when I watched him play with our little ones as he explained that as a family, we will now spend time together at home doing schoolwork and working because no-one in South Africa is allowed to move around as per usual. Week two was a little bit more challenging. My time seemed not to be my own. I just made too many sandwiches per day. By week three, the demands from father and children became unbearable. Please let me add little doggy who also had its own requirements suddenly because walking in the park was now prohibited. I could actually not believe that there was a week four and more…
Just as the experts predicted and observed, working from home as the “new normal” is like expecting people to change form like in the movie Transformers. Although time and other stressors like travelling to the office suddenly seemed much easier, the isolation and social interaction could in effect lead to depression and anxiety for many people. The new culture of working from home could lead to a struggle of maintaining healthy boundaries and poor family relations. It is found that people work much harder, take less breaks and work into the wee hours of the morning and even over weekends. It has become common for colleagues to contact each other after 6pm at night or even later because the perception has been created that everyone is and will be available if needed.
The following are some useful tips to manage the telecommuting situation and create a healthy balance between work and home life:
- Plan a schedule – have designated tasks and times for everyone in the household; create routine (children enjoy routine)
- Designate spaces – if possible, keep work space separate from sleep space and relaxation space
- In the morning, dress as if you are going into your workspace or office – then later, get back into comfortable “home clothes”
- Take regular breaks – enjoy a tea break and have lunch
- Minimize social media distractions – only log in periodically in order to remain focussed on home and office tasks
- Set and maintain boundaries – disable mobile e-mail apps on your phone, and set an alarm to remind you to switch off computers when the workday is over. Include your work hours in e-mail signatures and update status with away/not available messages for those unexpected calls after 6pm.
Expectations on the home and work front have increased and this has led to many people feeling incompetent and unsupported. Our general well-being as humans have been challenged like ships sailing unchartered waters. All the stress, depression, fatigue, quality of life, strain and happiness has been thrown into one pot – and then we watched as it all cooked together and expected the perfect tasting dish ever found on earth.
Mental Health experts advise that the awareness of setting the bar too high for ourselves, is key to the maintenance of mental health during these challenging times. We should know our limits to adaptability in order to cope with the “newness” created by the Corona Pandemic. Telecommuting is here to stay, and although there are many benefits to it, personal care and our own mental health comes first. Most importantly, the peace in the valley called home is the foundation and key determiner of our arrival after the storm caused by the Corona Pandemic.