The importance of breaks in the era of remote work and home office
For many people, breaks during the work day still have a bad reputation. Unjustly so. Mindful breaks not only lower stress levels, but increase the level of concentration, creativity and the ability to prioritize. Briefly said, they increase productivity (see here).
In this article, you'll learn how digitalization has changed the meaning and importance of mini-breaks in everyday work life and why mindful breaks should be established as new working rituals, especially in the age of remote work. And not just on an individual level, but above all as a new corporate routine that is promoted by companies' leaders and anchored in the corporate culture.
In times before digitization, breaks were an essentially natural part of our everyday lives.
In the past, breaks were taken quite naturally, even when the day was structured without active pauses.
Digitalization has made it possible for us to use every - yes, I literally mean every - second of our day. We can answer the first email as soon as we wake up, begin with the next presentation on the train, and even order our weekly groceries on the toilet!
It was very different in the days before cloud, VPN access and smartphones. We were reachable via landline, and the computer was on the desk. Back then, it wasn't technically possible to get things done quickly from anywhere. That is why our brain could go into "idle" mode much more naturally.
Back then our brain could take a break from work topics. White spaces on the calendar remained white. However, today we are tempted to spontaneously fill all the white spaces on our calendars with tons of appointments, rather than using them as a break. A meeting is delayed by 15 minutes. No problem: I can quickly answer my emails.
The white spaces in the calendar became even fewer due to remote work.
Not only do we no longer let the white spaces on the calendar stay unoccupied, the more we work from home, the more they diminish. We no longer have a need and possibility to change locations (into work or between meetings) or spend time with colleagues at lunch. One Zoom meeting is over, and the next one is already on its way. No more commuting to work. No colleagues for a little chat in the coffee station. Lunch in front of the laptop. That is how many employees’ new workday looks like at the moment.
In the remote age, we can no longer rely on naturally occurring breaks. But we desperately need them to stay productive, balanced and healthy.
So now we have to face a new reality: In the remote-work age, which is developing faster than we could have ever suggested because of the pandemic, breaks have become a tiny part of the workday. We can no longer rely on these naturally occurring pauses, but must actively incorporate them into our workday.
Without these breaks, our productivity suffers, as does our well-being state. Our bodies and minds were not created for a life without moments of inner peace. They are vital for us.
"Physically and mentally, we are basically identical from the birth to the people who lived 10,000 or even 100,000 years ago," -- psychologist and science writer Thilo Spahl.
Our world is changing rapidly, but our needs are not. The brain still requires regenerative breaks. This is also the key idea of an ancient wisdom from Taoism:
"If you are in a hurry, take a detour".
Purposefully doing nothing is essential to keeping us balanced.
When we don't, we feel overworked, stress spreads throughout every cell of our body, our back hurts, our mood goes downhill, and we sleep poorly. That is a clear highway to a burn-out and lack of productivity.
We need breaks to be able to concentrate and work creatively.
However, employees should not be left alone in this situation. Without the right corporate culture and framework, the tendency of lack of mini-breaks will be increasing.
What used to be automatic in the past requires active management. So it's time for new corporate routines to be introduced. Otherwise, not only the performance and satisfaction of each employee suffers, but of the entire company.