Automatic Behaviour

The bonus and disruption of automatic processing during Lockdowns

Pre-March 2020, we operated in a face-to-face biased workplace, with its own escalating levels of workplace expectations, pressures, work pace and stress.

Technology was being continually integrated into our daily working and home lives without us really taking stock of how it was either positively or negatively impacting us. Processes that included new technology innovation were quickly automated and became standardised.

Being innovative and future-focussed was about having or using the latest apps, social media platforms and gadgets that made us look more trendy, productive and ‘in-tune’ with our work.

We were already experiencing heightened levels of on-demand communication. We just kept going on this trajectory, because that was how work just happened. 

And then, one day, everything changed—absolutely everything. Every day presented a new challenge, a new hurdle to overcome, a new skill to learn, a new problem to juggle. 

Those first few months of Lockdown 1 were quite something, weren’t they? Having to hard-pivot (seemingly) almost daily, living in constant uncertainty and holding it together were key themes of that first Covid-Quarter. 

Then summer arrived and things started easing slightly… for a while, before rushing headlong into the late autumn lockdown. Who could keep up with the mandates, guidelines, traffic light system and tiers of winter 2020/21? Things started easing in the middle of this year, and then the next variant was upon us… 

Throughout all of this, we’ve spent 18 months working on constantly shifting sands of expectations, processes, and uncertainty. 

Pandemics and technology aside, as human beings, we rely heavily on an automated processing model for daily operation. 

This is where everyday activities are moved from a conscious level to a level of unconscious automatic functioning. 

What does this mean? Well, think about making a warm drink, driving a car, talking and writing, holding down a conversation, pulling up a work document… all these things we had to learn at some stage of our lives. We weren’t born knowing how to do them.

But, once we consciously worked on and developed the initial skillsets, the process shifted into the unconscious realm where we no longer think about actioning these simple, everyday tasks.

Just imagine what it would be like if these actions were not automated, how tiring, tedious and time-consuming basic living would be. 

Automatic processing means that we are able to release the conscious, working part of our brain to learn new skills, ruminate about events and conversations, think about someone else, and work through a tough problem… in other words, the ability to live the fulfilling and rewarding lives that we want to live. 

When our lives were massively interrupted in March 2020, those automatic processes that we relied on so much were relatively useless to us.

We suddenly had to dedicate huge portions of our working brain to figure out how to ‘do’ this working-from-home, manage our teams, virtually engage with clients, get projects done, and learn computer apps and programmes we weren’t familiar with (without physical colleagues or IT teams available to help), manage home life, help children with homeschooling, figure out how to get enough toilet paper or allocate enough time for queuing outside the supermarket, working through the nuances of the various mandates, dealing with our emotional and mental states… 

This onslaught of non-automated activity left us emotionally, mentally and physically exhausted most days. 

What we’ve all learnt through the past 18 months of remote and hybrid working, is how important routines and processes are to us as humans. Many of us have, therefore, started to re-evaluate the relationship we had with technology and how we intend to integrate it into our working and home lives in a more productive and less controlling way.