What a long, strange trip it's been for us this year! Conferences cancelled, vacations scuttled, routines tossed out the window, and work life changed drastically. For many of us, working remotely is nothing new, while for others it is a whole different world. Working from home can be quite liberating in ways – rolling out of bed without a commute, working in sweatpants or pajamas, having time to take breaks and complete projects during off hours, and more. It can also be incredibly stressful.
For those of us accustomed to working remotely, in most cases it is because we live our business lives on the road, traveling all over to visit sites, have in-person meetings, working group sessions, etc. Just because we are used to working remotely does not mean we are used to being at home all the time and not out in front of people. Speaking for myself, one of the joys of my job is traveling and meeting people. Sure, it can be exhausting with long hours and the “perks of travel” we experience with delays, weather, cancelled flights and all. But I find I am most effective in front of people – not on video, but in person. Without that, days seem to roll together, and the work seems to only increase with no break in sight. Do not get me wrong, TAS is having a record-breaking year mostly because other people need better remote and mobile tools to support them outside their offices. That said, the grind is different – noticeably so, and frankly it feels a lot harder.
People who are NOT used to working from home or remotely face an entirely different set of challenges. Especially if you have kids at home who would normally be at school and participating in clubs and sports, etc. My friends who have younger children tell me the stress of working at home, trying to be productive and be a good parent reflects a whole new level of stress for them. Constant interruptions, help with schoolwork, being supportive of those who cannot see friends, play sports, be active in groups, and much more blur the lines between home and work even further. My kids are grown and off at college (which is still remote classes) so we are “empty-nesters” which makes these issues mostly non-existent in my house. Even so, without dinners out, my traveling 50% of the time to conferences and meetings, we feel like we have exhausted the content libraries of Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Disney+ and more. TV is boring now, and the news is no fun to watch either. Throw in some political turmoil and it seems we are all swimming in deep pools of stress inducing restrictions. Coffee, work, sleep, and repeat – over and over.
Will we get through this? Of course, I believe we will be back to a version of our old lives at some point in the future. What is so difficult now is coming to terms with the fact that we are still many months away from that, and what was going to be a 60-90 day problem is now with us constantly.
In college I studied psychology, which has been quite useful in trying to see things from other people’s perspectives. It was a good foundation for sales by helping me be aware of people’s body language, moods, levels of interest (or lack thereof) and more. But lately, all my studies and experiences have been focused on keeping the mental health of myself and my family intact. I see people being so understandably stressed out by life in general they are behaving in ways not usually seen (myself included). Reacting to others more harshly than normal and being far more judgmental. Not because any of us has become a bad person, rather the stress of broken routines, lack of options, fear of the unknown, significant challenges in business and at work, and much more are bringing folks to the breaking point and beyond.
People are losing their lives, their jobs, their housing, their very livelihood, and it is all very real. Those of us fortunate enough to have stable work situations still feel the stress and burnout of this seemingly never-ending grind from home. I cannot imagine what it must be like for those whose jobs and livelihood are in jeopardy.
For a while I got caught up in my own stress and naively thought I may be unique in how all this felt, and how hard it really is. As I talk openly with more people, I realize we all feel it – to varying degrees, but we definitely share a heightened level of ongoing, compounding stress that makes days long and hope seem distant. No one is truly alone in this. Perhaps we should share our experiences and our feelings with others, so they may at least believe they can share their burdens with others too.
If you lead a team of people, consider what challenges they may be facing, and how each of their situations may be unique. How can we possibly take care of ourselves, without making sure our team is healthy? Our team may be a group of people at work, our families, communities, or all the above. Recently (honestly, too recently as I should have begun this months ago) I began reaching out to people just to talk – and to listen. Not about work, mostly about our new, scary, and shared levels of stress. How are they feeling, coping, managing? What things do they do to relieve stress or stay hopeful?
Admittedly, at first it was somewhat selfish of me – what are others doing that could potentially benefit me? However, as I spoke with more people, I realized that just offering an ear, and listening was really helping people. That, in turn, became truly helpful to me. Whatever you are going through right now I bet you are not alone, even when it feels you are. For what it is worth, I am truly sorry you have all this stress in your life. I do too, and I would much rather not have it at all. In times like these, shared experiences and a lending hand can go a very long way. And to get through this, and remain hopeful, we are going be far better off doing it together.
Random acts of kindness may have never meant so much as they can now. Last week, I mowed my neighbor’s lawn without asking. Just to help as they have young children at home. Turns out he was furious, as mowing the lawn was one of his few excuses to get outside. So, the lesson learned is perhaps random acts of kindness – with permission!
If, while reading this, my words rang true, reach out to someone else and see if sharing stress can help to alleviate it for you both. At this point, why not try?
Wishing you and your families safe and happy holidays to come. And I am very excited to perhaps cross paths again with many of you in person at RECon next December.