Creating a productive space at home

Although over time we have been talking about the blurring of lines between our work and personal lives, especially with the available technologies and some of us being always online, the COVID-related lockdown seems to have not just blurred but it has collapsed our work and personal spaces and boundaries. This is particularly the case with those who are able and can work remotely. We need to contend with the fact that in the confines of our home we are now fulfilling different and competing roles that we previously used to in different spaces. Working mothers though have been dealing with these conflicting roles and demands of their personal and work lives for generations.     

There is considerable research on the bi-directional role and gendered conflict between work and family, namely, work-to-family-conflict and family-to-work-conflict. There is also research on work and family enrichment, where the roles could enrich and enhance each other. The lockdown presents us an opportunity to take stock of our lives, roles and identities, as a whole; that means taking stock of our personal and work lives together and how we are managing these and possibly enriching both. It is forcing us to reckon with our purpose, priorities and where we are in our relationships in our personal and work lives. These can bring up many feelings, emotions and thoughts.

Given the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, it is important to create a clear structure, routine and outline of responsibilities or targets for yourself and your family. This includes the continuation of your learning and development, as well that of your family. In this way you can keep track of and manage the different time, task, expectations, and behavioural conflicts between work and personal/family lives. Here are possible steps to begin to address the above role conflicts and the creation of a productive space:

  • Take stock and clarify the different roles, responsibilities, identities, expectations, demands and needs that you and your family need to fulfil during the lockdown
  • Check in with your family their expectations, needs and demands. Don’t assume.
  • Take stock of your own needs and the mixed feelings, emotions and thoughts you may be sitting with (this will be explored in future posts on understanding our emotional reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdown, and new normal)
  • Map out and prioritise what needs to be done now and into the future.
  • Map out the weeks of the stages of lockdown and create a calendar that clearly demarcates the weekdays, weekends and holidays
  • Structure and mark out work, family, leisure, personal, and home chores and maintenance times in the calendar
  • Create and keep to a routine with the above times. Routine is important but be flexible with the routine and calendar. Life and contingencies happen! Write out your deliverables and goals for work and family so that you can keep track and readjust your calendar appropriately
  • Create a working space for yourself. A study would be ideal where you could demarcate it as a workspace, close the door and keep distractions away. Develop a schedule if this space needs to be shared. If you do not have a study or a room that you can dedicate as a working room, then create a space where there is less traffic and demarcate it with a piece of furniture or something else that signals for you and others that you are in working mode. Explain to family members why the space, time and quiet is important for you.
  • The working space should be comfortable and facilitate working. If you are doing video calls and conferencing, then the space needs to look professional as well.
  • Dress appropriately. If you are in the workspace or online, then how you present yourself still matters to you and others
  • Ensure that you prepare as you normally do and organise the necessary information and resources. It is easy to lose track of your workflow and where you had left documents, for example, when juggling different roles and competing demands for your attention and time
  • Create or mark out clear times when you need to be available and online for team members and your manager
  • Know and plan for what are the non-negotiables for you, your family and your work
  • Structure and mark out times for news updates on the COVID-19 pandemic and other news. Watching streaming news for prolonged periods can be disheartening and disempowering, as the unfolding increasing number of infections and tragic deaths may leave you feeling hopeless and helpless
  • Reinforce prevention measures with family and yourself. Check in with your family, especially young children, on how they are feeling. Help the young children understand how prevention and staying home helps.
  • Put in place measures for your and your family’s wellbeing

How do we address mindset, agency and productivity?

Creating a productive space is ‘one side of the coin’ as it were. The other side is your mind space, or your mindset and sense of agency. Together these influence your productivity during the lockdown. The pandemic and lockdown can disrupt, dislocate and leave us feeling lost at sea. To regain our perspective, focus and productivity we need recompose ourselves. As mentioned earlier, we need to take stock of where we are at emotionally, and reflect on the mixed feelings, emotions and thoughts we may have. The workspace we create can also act as a reflective space. We may consider relaxation exercises, for example, to help us be in a reflective space and mode (this will be explored in future posts on understanding our emotional reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdown, and new normal).

Below are possible ways to reflect on and address our mindset and agency:

  • Be honest and take stock of your feelings, emotions and thoughts. This may not be a once-off event, but rather a process throughout the lockdown and that you can continue thereafter
  • Check in with yourself. Are you distracted, in a confused state, at a loss, or just can’t seem to get going? Don’t beat yourself up about it. It may be a reaction to the pandemic and lockdown. As suggested before, clarify the different roles, responsibilities, identities, expectations, demands and needs that you and your family need to fulfil during the lockdown. Put in a structure and routine. Prioritise.
  • Think about your current state of mind. Do you feel like a ‘fish out of water’ and you do not know if you can adapt to this sudden change? Consider the distinction between a fixed and growth mindset that Professor Dweck proposes, and how you can shift your mindset. See this video by Professor Dweck.
  • Ask yourself what inspired you before. Can you still find inspiration from it? Is there something else that can inspire you?
  • Ask yourself whether you think you can change things that are immediately around you in your home and the immediate issues with your family and work life. Make a note of these and what you previously could do and change. How different are these lists? What could be holding you back?
  • Reach out to others and check in with them how they are coping and managing the lockdown and negotiation of their work and family roles. Develop support networks.
  • Crowdsource. There are many curated and collated resources on working remotely, maintaining a professional presence online, managing virtual meetings, and managing and leading virtual teams.
  • Decide on how you want to be present when online and on calls. Do not confuse how we behave on, and the informality of, social chat and social media platforms with professional platforms. They may look and feel the same, especially being at home, but the context and role expectations are different. Video conferencing is not like Tik Tok videos or Instagram.
  • Remember your organisation’s policies, procedures and practices are still in place.
  • If unsure then ask. Check in with your team members and manager what are their expectations and how they want to conduct remote meetings and work. Don’t assume.

What is the role of the HR professional?

As HR practitioners we need to also create a productive space and consider our own mindset and agency, while focusing on how to help our organisation, leaders, managers and teams to create productive space, mindset and agency for themselves. We need to engage the leaders and managers to assist their teams to manage their emotional reactions and state, create a productive space, prioritise, put in place structure and routine, negotiate their role demands and conflicts, manage their and their family’s wellbeing, and importantly survive the pandemic. It requires the leaders and managers to understand the disruption, uncertainty and anxiety that the team members may be experiencing. Micro-managing and ad hoc meetings, for example, will not assist.

The HR practitioner can assist the leaders and managers by the following.

  • Address the leaders and managers’ own productive space and mindset and agency. They may also experience disruption, dislocation and be ‘all over the place’.
  • Prioritise and structure for the lockdown, after the lockdown and the remaining business year as well as the medium and long-term.
  • Review the HR strategy accordingly as well as the workforce plan, talent management strategy and HR risk management. Use the HR Standards Systems Model as a guide to work systematically through these, the HR value chain, HR delivery system, and what the impact of the pandemic, lockdown and aftereffects will have on these.
  • Crowdsource how others’ are trying to address the sustainability of their organisations and employment
  • Consider the actual time and days of the lockdown and what can be practically achieved. Set out clear deliverables.
  • If team members can and are expected to work remotely then check what resources they have and need.
  • Set up clear times for virtual meetings, unless an emergency which requires ad hoc meetings. This helps team members structure their days and weeks. Check in where possible their role conflicts and what comprises can be made.
  • Communicate and consult where possible. Keep team members in the loop – they are already sitting with uncertainty about the future of their employment.
  • Communicate important updates on the pandemic and its impact. Do not bombard team members with updates on the tragic daily counts of infections and deaths. Be constructive and reinforce prevention measures
  • Ensure a wellness strategy, support and resources is put in place.
  • Ensure the workplace is conducive, safe and caters for employees’ health for post-lockdown return

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