Your lockdown work brain is mulch. Here’s why it matters.

It turned out that my car keys weren’t in the compost toilet, but under a bed. I’d missed them the first time I looked.

A couple of hours retracing steps, moving items from one surface to another and (yes, yuck) donning two pairs of rubber gloves had paid off in the end. I could have looked more carefully the first time around, but the search was already impeded by intrusive thoughts of how much it would be to call the locksmith, how much it would cost to get a new key programmed, the work hours I was wasting, and whether I would miss the event I needed the car to get to that day.

Photo of keys hanging in a row / by GLady/ PixabayIn the week since, I’ve lost one key or another at least twice. I lost them this morning. Losing keys, for me, is a canary in the coalmine. It’s a warning that I need to up my support systems, that the slipping of executive function from an admittedly low baseline is a symptom of stress. Not high-drama, exciting stress (because I cope quite well with that) and not normal deadline stress, but the grinding, chronic stress that so many of us are dealing with these last few months, juggling parenting and working and schooling from home, navigating uncertainty and safeguarding the health and sanity of those around us.

I’m comforted to find that I’m not alone. There are many who have noticed that this is taking away our ability to think straight. A friend in lockdown Melbourne shared this article detailing how and why chronic stress impacts the way our brains work, and how that translates to fewer resources for your prefrontal cortex (which basically does all the grown-up thinking), less good quality sleep, less of the dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin associated with positive in-person interactions and much poorer decision making, planning or remembering-keys skills.

On a personal level, there are strategies I can use to deal with the poorer concentration and increased fatigue. Unlike other team members whose days are filled with project meetings via voice and video conferencing, my days are characterised by quiet writing and researching, which can be hard when school’s been out for 6 months. So I can up my on-camera time, checking in with key colleagues more frequently, using that extra accountability and human contact to keep me on track. I book several Fridays in a row off. I also up my sessions on Focusmate, which uses the ‘body double’ principle and other behavioural triggers to buddy up members all over the world for focused, on-camera effort sprints. It works.

I’m not the only one whose brain feels like it’s being slowly poached in a vat of warm treacle. Maybe that’s you too. Maybe, importantly, that’s your staff, and there are implications for productivity, workplace happiness and mental health, whether your staff are returning to a physical workplace or not.

Despark: Dani next to the blackboardWorkplace wellness is more than just a buzzword. It’s more important than ever, something which employers are becoming increasingly aware of as they seek to support the mental health of their staff. Research in the UK shows that lockdown and remote working coincided with a reported downturn in mental health among employees, with those who were working from home for the first time reporting the worst effects. 

New home-centred workers reported finding it more difficult to concentrate, enjoy normal daily activities than other categories of worker. They also more frequently felt constantly under strain and unhappy... Furthermore, out of the 12 indicators of mental health new home-centred workers reported poorer mental health than established factory/office-centred workers on all counts.

The ONS reported that prior to the pandemic, only 5% of UK employees regularly worked from home. That figure has now jumped to 49%, with a clear trend towards adopting remote working as a normal business model, allowing more creative ways of using traditional office space when workers do attend in person — for instance using remote time for quiet, focused working tasks and in-office time for idea sharing, team building and discussion tasks.

Those who have already put in place workplace wellness schemes may find that staff need to lean more heavily than ever on them. Those schemes which are made up of in-office perks now need to reconsider what supporting employee mental health looks like if staff are increasingly working remotely as the norm.

Digital wellness platforms, with their advantage of customisability, location independence and modular structure, are a powerful new tool which allows employers both to offer ongoing support to mental health and resilience, as well as helping team members create motivating goals for personal growth, fitness, skills and more.

Importantly, they also offer a more long term picture of the wellness of an entire organisation, logging progress over weeks, months and years, and allowing for exciting opportunities to help create lasting habits or cement new skills - something which is often lacking in one-off workshops or workplace courses.

We’ve helped coaching, training and counselling clients make the leap into digital wellness platforms and we’ll be talking about it more in the next few weeks with some special guests, so make sure you’re on our mailing list to be included in upcoming online events and get some valuable free planning resources.

As for me, I thought about getting one of those beeping key tags from the ‘90s, but decided against it. I’d probably lose the remote control. Better to make use of my digital and corporeal support tools to stay on track. One exciting example from our own stable is Curv: check it out.


Article by Jo Bradshaw, Content Manager

Written by

Jo Bradshaw

Writer at Despark - delivering human-first digital products which move the world forward.