We have been working from home for a year now. How do we cope?
It's been almost a year since we exchanged offices for living rooms, kitchens, bedrooms or children's rooms. The pandemic isolated all of us. We experienced insecurity, worries about loved ones, but also solidarity, love and the joy of little things. At the Pontis Foundation, we did a lot of great things at work, of which we are very proud. But as people, we had to adapt our lives in many ways. How did we cope with the "year of the pandemic"?
We asked some of our colleagues how their work habits had changed, what had been the biggest challenge for them, as well as how they had maintained their mental health. The following colleagues allowed us to peek into their privacy and experience:
Martina Kolesárová and Michal Kišša, executive directors of the Pontis Foundation
- Ivana Vagaská, senior programme manager for CSR and executive director of BLF
- Ivana Kompasová, senior programme manager for strategic philanthropy
- Zuzana Schaleková, senior PR manager
- Fero Paulíny, programme manager for strategic philanthropy
- In the article, we listed their names more familiarly, as we are used to in our internal communication.
In a few days, it will have been a year since we started working from home. How have your work habits changed?
“Long-term work from home provided me with the opportunity to set a regular day regime so that I have more time for my hobbies. I started to get up earlier, and thus to work earlier. I’m an early bird, so I’m most productive in the morning. After work, I go running, in the evening I read or have a phone call with friends. I feel that life has calmed down a bit and has stabilised, which suits me quite well. But I miss my colleagues and all that is nice about working in the office.”
“Strangely, my work habits haven’t changed much. Even before, I set my working hours flexibly. If necessary, I worked in the evening and in the morning, and during lunch, I took a little break. I also used to work from home or combine the two forms. Of course, it was difficult during the first wave, especially when the kindergartens were closed. It is not always easy to combine work with taking care of a little child.”
“I must admit that sometimes, I don’t even realise it’s been a year. Most of all, my time schedule and work schedule have changed. I used to go to work early in the morning. Often, I was the first in the office. Now I get up later because I’m kind of stretched all day. I work longer, but it’s also because I have a preschooler at home, so the day is divided into two parts. I openly admit that the second wave is more difficult for me to cope with, compared to the first one. I have days when I feel more tired, although fortunately, I can manage to re-energise.”
“I was used to working from home even before the pandemic. It suited me very well, because thanks to it, I always managed to do more. I was able to concentrate undisturbed and did not have a problem with logistics about children and kindergarten. However, a home office with children (six-year-old twins) is a completely different matter. It should be a sport discipline. Everything is more demanding. I have to do what I used to do, even at the cost of intermittent concentration and a distracted mind that jumps between work tasks, thinking about having to cook or order something for lunch or the children having spilt watercolours in the living room. Still, the truth is that during the first wave of the pandemic last spring, there was much more chaos in the family. Now, we have reached a very advanced level of how we can share time for work and children with my husband, take turns and manage what is necessary. ”
“I’m probably weird but I never considered home office a work benefit. Even though if I need to work, I enjoy working in the evening or over the weekend, I don’t like taking my work home. So I had to learn to work in the living room, where the pitfalls of procrastination lurk in every corner. After all, in the office, you won’t start vacuuming, nor does the courier ring and the washing machine doesn’t beep. Simply put, I’ve always been more efficient when there’s a lively creative activity around me.”
What was/is the biggest challenge of this pandemic for you?
“In my work and personal life, the biggest challenge has been the isolation and the transfer of personal communication to the digital world. In some ways, it made many things more efficient, but at the same time, very ‘flattened’. A few minute phone calls with parents cannot replace personal contact. And even though my parents are still in good health, I often think about the people who may be losing the last moments with their loved ones. At the same time, I intensely perceive the impact of isolation on children and students as I have children myself. In fact, I had to ‘turn off’ empathy in some ways. Otherwise, the inability to do something about this situation would be very difficult for me.”
“The biggest challenge is to exercise enough. If I neglect it, I can immediately feel it in my physical as well as mental well-being. Without movement, my whole body hurts, and I tend to experience negative moods. At the same time, it is often extremely difficult for me to go out after exhausting work. Before, I used to move at least when walking to the tram stop, or I walked part of the way from work. Now, it has been completely minimised. So many times, I need to literally ignore my laziness and comfort and run out of the house without thinking.”
“The greatest challenge for me, apart from long-term feelings of anxiety and worrying for the loved ones, is the lack of time and space for myself. At the same time, however, I consider an advantage that due to the many things that need to be addressed every day, I have no room to succumb to depressing thoughts.”
“In my work life, the biggest challenge is how best to manage my calendar. For example, when it is necessary to say no to yet another meeting. In the current setting, it is more difficult for me to dive into things, think about the fields on which I focus. Sometimes I find it harder to concentrate. On a personal level, those challenges remain – for example, how to select the necessary amount of information – what I need to know and what I can do without. Also, how to find time and space for myself, how to consciously dose what helps me in this limited mode. The challenge is to combine the role of a mom and a working woman.”
How do you manage to combine family and work responsibilities?
“It’s difficult, but my husband and I are trying. During the first wave, we played many board games with children, and we tried to spend that little free time with them in a creative, focused activity. During weekends, I try not to work at all, and we go to nature a lot.”
“Briefly: it is like on a swing :). With my husband, we are both working parents at home with a preschooler. Drawing our home schedule of the day, where everyone has a box with their activities and tasks, has helped us very much. But we also have days when it’s really a freestyle. Then, us as parents are in meetings each in one room, and our daughter is a separate unit that needs to entertain herself. When I start to regret not having paid enough attention to her, I am always reassured by conversations with other working mothers. And cooking is a separate chapter. I never thought this was going to be a big deal. Many moms are starting to hate cooking. The question becomes a stable part of conversations: What are you going to cook today? :)”
“We had to make it clear that this was a really difficult situation, and there was no point in pretending that we could manage everything greatly. I was inspired by the advice of psychologists that it is good to identify a few things that are “musts” on a given day, and the others are just “nice to have’s”. We do not ferment, harden in cold water or do creative workshops for children. Every morning, the husband sits for an hour with the children, working on tasks for preschoolers so that they do not completely lose the regime they had thanks to the nursery. A “must” is also to have fruits every day, a warm lunch and an active stay outside. But the rest of the time, they have to come up with fun and games themselves. They are doing well, but then, our apartment looks worse.”
Sometimes, it’s healthy to be sad and angry that things are not going the way we want. How do you maintain mental well-being? What helps you endure this time?
“What helped me most was improving my eating habits, exercising and relaxing by watching a movie, series or reading a book, and spending less time on Facebook and news.”
“For me, it works very well to rationalise what is happening on the inside. When I name what I am afraid of or what is difficult for me, and I find that these are all solvable things. I also try to gamify things internally. It means that even from an unpleasant situation, I try to make a kind of game, which motivates me to overcome it. At first, for example, I was not comfortable having too much silence. But that is why I decided not to disrupt it with music or movies and learn to work with it. When I made friends with it, it turned out to be a great thing for new ideas. And an important part of my peace of mind is limiting social networks as well as reading only the most necessary and factual media articles.”
“We started to do more tourism. Every weekend, we go on a hike, a trip to nature. I try to read more, at which I have been succeeding. And I was happy to watch a few online performances of the Slovak National Theatre. The community at our street and phone calls with friends help me too.”
“Climbing helps me very much or at least staying in extra-urban areas. And books in which I can get lost for a while. Besides providing entertainment and intellectual pleasures, books also work as effective reminders that there are much worse things in life than sitting at home. Despite everything, it sometimes catches up even with me, a strict introvert. I think it’s okay. Sometimes it’s healthy to be sad and angry that things aren’t going the way we want.”
“The pandemic taught me two things that help me maintain mental well-being. The first is self-praise. Every day, I pat myself on the shoulder and comment with admiration on how, once again, I managed this run over obstacles. It sounds ridiculous, but it works perfectly. The second thing is having moments when I stop my mind. I perceive snow falling behind the window, a piano solo on Devín Radio, the laughter of children when they have mouths full of spaghetti. Yes, a proper cliché, but it works great too. And it also has added value. It is in these moments that I can fully realise my gratitude for all the noise and chaos that I am surrounded by every day. Because that noise and chaos are proof that I am still here, and so are my loved ones. And so (for now) everything is fine.”
Whether you cope with these moments better or worse, know that you are not alone in this.
Let’s rejoice in the little things, and let’s hold on for a little longer. We believe that the return to normal is close.