Most of us find ourselves in very different circumstances from anything we could have imagined this time last year. We have been unceremoniously tipped out of our comfortable offices, disconnected from our teams and clients and our working environment turned upside down. Just as we started to believe we might be returning to some normality, the possibility of returning to the office seems further away than ever.

Uncertainty has become our modus operandi; action-planning no longer the useful organisational tool it once was. So how are we to stay motivated on these ever-shifting sands? How do we stay connected and productive?

Staying connected

Firstly, is the connection to people; whether it’s managing teams, working alongside peers or spending time with clients or stakeholders, we are all missing out on the benefits of face-to-face contact. We miss out on the connection-building elements of small talk at the start of meetings, casual desk-side chats or coffee breaks and after-work drinks. All of these have been the norm up to now and our way of understanding each other through social cues and non-verbal communication has been all but lost. This can lead to us questioning our identity and value, becoming frustrated or disappointed with colleagues and losing confidence. Taken alongside the generalised anxiety that all of us are experiencing to a greater or lesser extent, we are riding a pretty extreme rollercoaster.

It’s important, therefore, to create deliberate digital moments with the people we interact with every day. Birthdays and other milestones are still important in the virtual world, as is the space for small talk and creating those connections that go so far when things are tough and difficult questions need to be asked or demands are high. Think about finding your own way to create intentional virtual spaces; how you do so is less important than whether you do. Although after an energy-sapping day of video calls, it can feel like the last thing we want to turn our attention to, but the long-term benefit of stronger relationships and better collaboration is clear.

Being productive

Maintaining productivity and swerving distraction will present varying challenges depending on your personality type and the environment you find yourself working from. For those with children or housemates, a home office can be fraught with disruption, while those of us easily disturbed by the background chatter of an open plan office may find ourselves much better able to focus. Whatever it is, do some self-reflection; are you more productive first thing in the morning? Do you need to get some fresh air in the afternoon to avoid the temptation of a nap? If this pandemic has given us anything, it’s greater flexibility between work and home so you might benefit from using your morning commuting time to get on with detailed work and save the meetings for the afternoon or perhaps you’re able store up complex tasks for when you know you’re in your flow on a Monday evening and compensate by getting a bit more rest in the mornings rather than forcing an early start. We’re all different in this way, but now is a great opportunity to calibrate your working day so that it makes most sense to you.

Be honest also about the things that distract you; leave your phone in another room, put on quiet background music instead of the radio if you get sucked in to the narrative. Try turning off notifications on your computer, whether it’s news pop-ups or instant messages. It is said that we take an average of 32 minutes to get back to a task when we’re distracted, so imagine the amount of non-productive time in our days if we pick up our phones every time they alert us that there may be something more interesting going on.

Maintaining your boundaries

There is also the danger that we may be blurring the boundaries between home and work; with no commute or ritual of putting on our coats and saying goodbye to our workmates at the end of the day, we lack the important demarcation that takes us from work to home. For many of us that means that we’re living at work rather than working at home and that quickly takes its toll. Top tips for creating the delineation include closing the door on our work space at the end of the day; not all of us are lucky enough to be able to literally do this, but if you’re working from your kitchen table or a corner of your bedroom, make sure you pack things away and switch off your computer so you’re not tempted to “just check in” while you’re eating dinner or pull the laptop into bed with you as soon as you wake up.

Get properly dressed at the start of each day to ensure you’re creating a firm boundary after which your working day begins. Not only does it lift your spirits and self-esteem to get into proper work wear, albeit with a comfortable home-working vibe, it stops you from checking your emails in your dressing gown while you wait for the kettle to boil and finding yourself in full work mode from the moment you get up.

Undoubtedly, this is the strangest of times with many things outside of our control but it’s also a good time to think about what you can take charge of including the way you interact with those you work with, the way you set yourself up at home and how, within reason, you make your own rules for your working day.  

Written by: Isabelle Campbell

Isabelle is a consultant, trainer and coach. Having obtained her ACA with a Big 4 firm, Isabelle has worked in demanding finance roles for more than 10 years and understands the impact of both work and personal challenges on health, happiness and balance. Isabelle is passionate about helping others achieve a better work-life balance, build resilience and increase inner peace. 

CABA provides free lifelong support to past and present ICAEW members, ACA students, ICAEW staff, and their close family members.

If you’re worried about the impact of the pandemic on you and your family, find out how CABA can support you