April 10, 2022

Emotional Roadwork

Roadwork has long been a conditioning strategy used by boxers to fuel recovery and build an aerobic base onto which more interval and high intensity work could be layered.  Despite the popularity of CrossFit's high-intensity workouts, college and professional Strength and Conditioning coaches all use long duration, steady state cardio (some call it Zone 2) to ensure there is an aerobic base for athletes to draw on even if their sport is more interval-oriented.

Why would anyone care about this?

We have been hearing about and directly experiencing Zoom fatigue for the last two years. Sitting for eight to ten hours, staring at a camera, trying to pay attention, reading what little body language cues we could get was exhausting.

Now we are back in the office and, whew, back to normal.

Not quite yet.

People are likely to experience a new kind of fatigue in their return to work: emotional.

With back-to-back Zoom meetings, you could sometimes at least turn your camera off and just listen to the conversation while you made coffee or sat outside on your deck.

Now, back in the office, you are on all the time, interacting all the time, smiling all the time, not able to turn off.  You can't just decide to start playing Candy Crush while someone is talking to you in your office or the break room.  

Offsites are especially fraught.  All day interactions, then dinner, then the bar...most of us have not been this "on" for two years and many are finding it overwhelming.

I just finished facilitating an in person offsite.  I noticed a diminished capacity by the end of the day myself.  One guy at the offsite said it was like going back to the gym after two years of not working out: you are totally out of shape for it.  

And he and I are both extroverts!  

According to Susan Cain's popular TED talk on The Power of Introverts (30MM views), extroverts generally draw energy and are switched on from social interactions and lots of stimulation.  I have to imagine that introverts, who are at their best in quieter lower key environments, are having an especially difficult time with this return to work.

For those returning to the gym after a long lay off, if you try to "go at it" like you used to, you could easily get hurt.

When you go back to the gym, it is wise to go slow:  build a base of cardio and general physical preparedness, pay attention to your fatigue levels and soreness, and build time for recovery.  

Ditto for the return to the office.  

Here are some recommendations:

  1. Don't go right "back to normal" and start working in the office all week.  Start with a couple days a week and get comfortable with that. Ramp it up from there.
  2. Set aside more "no meeting" blocks.  People have always blocked time on their calendars for think time and getting actual work done.  But now those blocks are also needed to help you recharge your emotional battery from all the engaging you are doing with others at the office.
  3. Listen to your body.  If you are struggling to engage or pay attention, your cup is probably full and you might need a day of working from home or a day with more "no meeting" blocks.
  4. Know what recharges you.  What calms you down and centers you?  Is is time with your family?  Walks?  Time in Nature?  Reading?  Meditation?  Know what those resources are for you and put blocks for them on your calendar.  Make sure these things don't fall by the wayside in the return to the office.

Getting back together with your colleagues is going to be great, really great.  

But baking in emotional roadwork as you return to the office will help ensure you have something left in the tank for those days you find yourself "on the ropes."

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