Updated: Dec 23, 2020
And nobody I know died.
Ale, what does remote work have to do with grief? That's the question a client of mine asked me during a session and I think that you are probably as puzzled as he was.
Chances are that the covid-19 crisis forced you to adopt a remote life style. I am not just talking about working remotely, but also living all the other aspects of your life remotely. More Zoom meetings with your friends and family, more online shopping, at home fitness and so on. Covid-19 has been around for several months now, so I assume that you know the drill.
There are hundreds of articles that want to explain you a concept that, according to the authors, we all struggle to understand: life as we knew it is on hold. I think that they are entirely missing the point and they are making you focus on what you are missing instead of constructively offer a healthy point of view.
What's at stake?
You and me are witnessing a radical change in our lives. But, isn't life all about change? Life is a never ending evolution that implies change at its core. You are used to change, at least in a pre-covid-19 era. You made new friends, started practicing a new sport, learned a new skill, changed job and so on. You are so used to deal with change, right?
Well, maybe it's not so simple. Before covid-19 trashed your life, routines, relationships and water-cooler brainstorming sessions, you went through few changes at a time. I bet you avoided situations where you changed everything in one go.
So, you took your time to process the change, to get used to it and to integrate the new elements in your life. And you had the support of family, friends and colleagues to help you navigate a difficult time. You belonged to a community and you could feel it.
Then came covid-19 that wiped out something deeper than the chat with your beloved, the coffee you could grab at a coffee bar and the weekly party after work. Covid-19 stripped you of your self image.
I see a lot of people struggling to work remotely. They aren't the witty colleagues any more. They aren't as thoughtful and kind as they were since they can't easily unplug, turn their pc and phones off, calling it a day. They aren't the organized and structured people they used to be according to how they careen through the several Zoom meetings they attend on a daily basis. They aren't the loving people they once were since they can't be physically close to their beloved, increasing a sense of disconnection and uncertainty.
If you can recognize yourself in the symptoms above, then it's highly likely that your identity has been compromised. Your mental, physical and emotional well-being is at stake and unprocessed grief finds its way in.
Change and grief in a remote work environment
Change means adaptation. In order to successfully adapt to a new situation, a part of you needs to "die" to make room for the development of new elements. It's impossible to change if you cling to the image you have of yourself before covid-19. Thus, a part of you "dies" in the sense that it undergoes a transformation, sometimes beyond recognition.
Change is a bridge between who you were and who you will become. If you are forced to change, you know that you need to cross the bridge leaving behind certain aspects of you, let them go so that the transformation can take place. In a nutshell, you have to go through a grieving process that is related to the pain of getting to the other end of the bridge, looking back at what you left behind and mourning the loss.
When covid-19 forced you to work remotely, even if you have always felt the attraction of telework and you wanted to give it a try, your lifestyle changed entirely overnight. The in-house-job part of you needs to give space to the remote work side.
Admittedly, remote work has different dynamics with respect to a in-house job. Working remotely is very challenging because it puts you in a difficult position, requiring from you to develop a better relationship with yourself since you are going to spend much more time by yourself.
These changes are overwhelming. They can totally crash a person and even bring her to the brink of burnout and depression. Take also into account that the majority of your colleagues are struggling with your same problems and the hectic situation that emerges is enough to push you over the edge and let you fall straight into the gorge of mental and emotional distress.
What can you do to create a fulfilling life?
First of all, it's important to recognize how grief looks like. Then, I would encourage you to be aware of the risk of an incomplete grieving process. I don't want to scare you. Rather, I want to be completely honest with you about the mental, emotional and physical problems you can have if you bottle up and deny grief.
I want you to know that there is a way to better deal with remote work and the whole corona crisis. If you live in the hope that this virus will disappear in a few weeks and that you can go back to your "normal" life, then you will get very disappointed whenever a new lockdown is declared and a new wave of grief will wash over you.
It's totally normal to get attached to things, lifestyles, beliefs, people, status (basically everything) and experience grief when we have to let something go. The good news is that if you allow yourself to go through the grieving process, you will move from suffering to acceptance. You will be able to accept life and look at it with fresh eyes.
When you accept the fact that you are grieving, you will more easily be able to deal with reality and its consequences, opening up to new possibilities and coming up with healthier strategies.
Let me briefly share my biggest experience of loss and grief related to my identity with you to give you a tangible example. After I decided to leave Academia in 2017, I spent three years grieving the image I had of myself as the PhD guy, the neuroscientist, the researcher. I experienced four out of five stages of grief, mainly revolving around anger and denial. I was stuck, unable to see a way out of the dark pit I dug with my own hands.
It took me several months, working with a coach, to finally move to the fifth stage, acceptance. It took me so long because I thought that I could put the pain under the rug, ignore it and it would eventually disappear. It doesn't work like that. Pain will always be there if it's not entirely processed, compromising every aspects of your life.
When I finally accepted the fact that my life changed radically, through a painful and enlightening process, I felt free to experience life for the very first time. I embraced the power of making my choices without all the musts I previously had in my mind.
Go through the grieving process to create a better remote work experience
So, in order to productively adapt to the new dynamics that remote work brings in your life, it's important to grief the identity you had before the pandemic. Trying to bottle your pain up won't work. Furthermore, it will cost you in terms of mental, emotional and physical well-being. If you are a CEO, then the bill that your company is going to pay will be expensive.
As soon as you and your colleagues start a healthy journey to mourn your previous lifestyle, you will experience more creativity, productivity, capability to set boundaries, better communication and increased well-being that comes from trusting life after you surrender to it instead of fighting against it.
It took me three years and I now can switch my pc and phone off over the entire weekend. I feel at peace with my choice even if it gets very boring sometimes. I now am able to deal with boredom, knowing that a technological detox is the best solution for me. In the weekend, I spend time cooking, reading, thinking about my book, working with wood, going for walks in the park and playing ping-pong outdoor if the weather allows it.
To conclude, I wish you to find the strength and the willingness to accept the fact that your life changed. If you need guidance to improve your remote work experience, you can always count on me. Reach out to me and book your free one-on-one session.