New Normal – New Risks – New Workout
Why we need to build muscle memory in our home office
Ever wondered why you are constantly tired and hungry since the pandemic began? The reason is all the “New” in 2020 and as old as humanity itself: human beings struggle with change because adapting to change requires a lot of energy. Our brain uses up a 25% of the body’s overall energy. The more change we face the more energy our brain needs (usually in form of easy digestible Glucose which leaves us hungry all the time).
Although all change is hard work for our brains it’s even harder when it affects our core habits. We need to constantly process new information instead of shifting into “auto pilot”. Suddenly we need to think about the most mundane daily routines: if you go shopping don’t forget your mask, wash your hands as soon as you are coming home, don’t hug your best friend when meeting her at the supermarket… Our brain now needs to work twice as hard to handle our daily life thus lacking energy to do the “real work”.
Unfortunately, the “real work” habits changed quite a bit too. In spring 2020 the world nearly collectively went home to work from living room tables, balconies, kitchen counters, using books to raise monitors and shared the gaming mouse with their teenage kids (more ergonomic to facilitate 12hr gaming nights). This also meant to closely intertwine our personal life with our business life. How do I use the webcam without revealing piles of laundry in the background? Suddenly, the barrier between work and private life is gone and the savvy business woman had to turn into the scolding mum and back several times in the middle of a telephone conference. Although the switch between these roles is happening unconsciously, it still represents additional work for our brain. With our different roles being confined to a single space – our home – the switch happens more quickly and more frequently throughout the day. Yet another source to drain energy from our bodies.
Besides being a physical and mental risk, such lack of energy as well as the constant distraction, the overlay of our different roles and the blurred line between work and home can pose a significant security risk. Our ability to unconsciously apply the rules and guidelines of our office environment wither away over time.
For example: deleting the printout of confidential information such as a CV usually is routine. Now we might inadvertently use it to calm our toddler during a telephone conference by letting her scribble on it. Later we throw it out with the trash or pin it on the fridge totally forgetting about the sensitivity of the content. We get distracted when someone calls on the door to deliver a package and might click on a phishing mail. Especially as the number of emails has increased significantly due to a lack of personal connection.
Life can be exhausting and confusing at the best of times. For many of us it became utterly distressing in times of COVID-19.
The bad news: cyber criminals know that and mercilessly attack. FBI states that cybercrime reports quadrupled during the COVID-19 pandemic, Barracuda Networks said it had seen a 667% increase in malicious phishing emails and even the WHO issued a warning on cyber criminals impersonating the WHO to distribute malware.
To help us reduce these risks our brain needs a special type of “workout” to build muscle memory. It is a form of unconscious memory which allows our brain to perform tasks with little to no conscious effort requiring only a small amount of energy. Usually muscle memory is established by repetition. Most of us built muscle memory when we became experienced drivers. To build new muscle memory during this pandemic times we need to create as much routine as possible in our daily lives and establish mental and physical boundaries between the professional and the private space.
In addition, companies can help their employees by providing ongoing training and awareness activities adapted to the “New Normal”. A “how to safely work from home” guide or support to create a separate home-office space can sometimes be more effective than the most sophisticated firewall.
Cyber Security month is a perfect time to give an early start on your New-Year’s-resolution-brain-workout!
Finally a totally valid excuse to eat a snack and not feel guilty about it !
Just thinking that for those of us who are not yet used to act on security routines in auto-pilot mode, since we are now forced to re-think these routines, it's a perfect opportunity to build better ones.
Should active participation to the activities of the security month count as one? Hey, why not?
Thanks Birgit for this insighful blog
I love this! It captured my extra daily stress exactly. While there are advantages to working from home, of course, the loss of separation between these two parts of my life has caused a huge amount of disruption.
That sudden change in March of this year was all to abrupt. It was everything you described in your blog and more. Those changes caused disruption and raised anxiety levels. Physical and mental health have taken a hit. Some people adapted well, some people took loner to adapt and some people still haven't. When this pandemic is all over things won't go back to as they were pre-2020. We will have that "new normal", thus yet another change. For those who have difficulty with change it's going to be rough for them yet again.