How to Create a Workspace Where You Can Thrive — Even During COVID-19

About a year ago, my friends and I sat among the Redwood trees in California. Surrounded by giants hundreds of years old, we contemplated our surroundings compared to the concrete jungle of our home in New York City. Needless to say, the sensation is dramatically different. 

When my family moved from Manhattan to Brooklyn, my office soon followed suit. During that time of physical transitions, I kept coming back to this question: Does the place where we are fulfill us, or do we work for that intentionally? I wondered how the two feed off each other, and what agency we have in shaping our sense of fulfillment and purpose.

Today that’s a much more complex question than before. Millions of people working from home each day have unique circumstances impacting their “workspace.” If schools were in session, some parents might have found this transition a bit easier, but many are experiencing a complete dissolution of their work-life balance.

Across the entire spectrum of jobs, we are doing things differently, using new technology, and learning new skills. In collaborative working environments where people are moving quickly to build and create products and services, working from home might feel foreign and less productive.

Despite a hectic pace to try and meet new needs and demands, hitting quarterly and annual goals could be more challenging as budgets and needs evolve. That means our outlook needs to focus on something different to get through these hard times. 

As leaders it is increasingly important that we ask ourselves whether we are creating spaces that cultivate purpose and fulfillment within our organizations by knowing what our colleagues need and trying to provide systems of support. As members of a team, we also must ask ourselves if we are both contributing to that sense of purpose. It’s not inherently guaranteed that it exists within us, or exists within the workspace — especially when it’s fragmented or uprooted.

It’s clear now more than ever that our sense of place can be shaped by people and events out of our control, which means we need to find ways of creating it for ourselves no matter where we are or what’s going on.

Here is how I cultivate a sense of fulfillment whether I’m in my New York City office, camping in the Redwoods, or on a train to visit a school in Washington, D.C.:

Express gratitude. For me, it’s as simple as writing thank-you cards. This means identifying something to be grateful for each day. We are alive, and we can be grateful for things big and small–an opportunity, the weather, a smile offered by our barista. Practice identifying three specific small things you are grateful for each day. You might write them in a journal, share them with a partner, or save a voice note to your phone. 

Find creative flow. Whether it’s morning writing or walking alone, getting in a flow state of creativity energizes me to be able to build and inspire others to do the same. Identify what fills you up creatively and lean into that when you’re feeling less inspired and motivated.

Recognize community. In New York City we coexist with 8 million people, and right now we interact with as few people as possible. We need to find new ways to recognize the power inherent in a group, particularly during a time when seeing fewer people is actually a sign of solidarity. Weekly applause for healthcare workers every evening has been a great show of support. Start by acknowledging the people closest to you, and work your way out from there.

Value intentional solitude. Yes, we are spending more time alone than likely ever before, but that means we have to work harder to make that solitary time intentional and fruitful for us. My tribe gives me energy, but solitude is what sustains it. Building in time alone keeps my head clear and my breaths deep. Be intentional about the time when you are alone. Will you commit to quiet? To reading without distraction? To closing your eyes and focusing on your breath? Don’t assume that the increased time in isolation will inherently give you the purpose you seek; work for it.

Be honest when it hurts. No matter where I am in space, the opportunity to acknowledge my shortcomings and be honest with myself about when I have made mistakes, hurt people, and been in the wrong challenges, inspires and fulfills me. Those moments of reflection are opportunities for us to grow and become a better version of ourselves. Unless we acknowledge our mistakes and identify what we’d do differently in the future, we end up making the same mistakes over and over again. 

We can create a sense of place to fill us up and serve our happiness. There is a piece that is inherent in our physical surroundings, but it’s also our responsibility to cultivate it within ourselves. If happiness is something we work for, we have to actively create it with our sense of place.

Sara Potler LaHayne (@sara_lahayne) is Founder and CEO of Move This World, a social-emotional learning program supporting students.

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