If 2020 has showed us anything it’s that this year has been one hell of a ride. Aside from health concerns, thousands of businesses have been impacted and many of us have lost jobs and clients, or even worse still, loved ones. In such uncertain times with travel non-existent and a global financial crisis hanging over heads, it’s no wonder it’s been hard to focus on building our careers and being productive!

Of course, a lot of freelancers are used to working independently from home which you would think offers an advantage in this current climate, however with children, partners or flatmates around more than usual for many it’s been an unwelcome distraction on top of other concerns and a general lack of motivation and inspiration.

So how can you give yourself a much-needed boost to return to the successful worker you know you can be? The one who doesn’t hesitate to approach (and win!) new clients to set themselves up for the new year ahead and is also fulfilled creatively?

The answer lies in play. I know, being playful is probably the last thing on your mind this year, but it’s exactly what we need right now. Play helps strengthen bonds, makes you feel safer, shows empathy, increases productivity and creativity, and can also provide a welcome and joyful distraction to work and personal woes.

If you think play has no place in the grown-up world of weekly meetings, strategy discussions and professional life, then now is the time to let that go. Play is a remedy (not for covid-19 of course), but to alleviate some of the symptoms that the pandemic has created. Stress and anxiety were already common feelings in our fast-paced world, and these negative emotions have been amplified by unprecedented levels of uncertainty, social distancing, working remotely, living solo and missing human interactions, or being cooped up with the family and craving alone time. In turn it has had an impact on our mental health and ability to work as best as we know we can.

Freelancers have long known the perks of working from home, but when it’s forced upon you it’s a different matter. Working remotely more commonly complicates communication, collaboration and relationship building; and with everyone doing it now, it’s time to lift your game by letting playfulness maintain and cultivate your social bonds and professional thinking.

So how do you play at work? Run virtual activities with clients or team members focusing on sharing to increase empathy and improve psychological safety, while keeping your anxious brain at bay with a healthy cocktail of positive mental juices. With different types of games, you can boost neurotransmitters such as oxytocin, dopamine and endorphins — the feel-good chemicals you might be running low on at this point in time.

Here are a few other starter tips to get your ‘play’ on:

  • Spice up your virtual meetings

Start with an icebreaker to get your meeting participants to switch out of the daily grind and refocus. These quick and often quirky activities come with a range of benefits for meetings, but especially virtual ones. Then to ensure people stay engaged and not lured into distractions, use ‘engagers’ to quickly reconnect throughout the session. For example, ask a question or create a poll and have every participant use thumb up or down signals, post in the chat channel or verbally take turns answering.

  • Don’t avoid games – adapt them

Most teaching, sharing, creative or bonding games can be altered to fit into a virtual environment. For some you may want to use a collaboration tool such as Miro or Mural, but you can still do a lot with good old pen and pen, or no props at all.

  • Keep playful throughout the day

Engage in fun communications and activities with colleagues or clients via Slack or Zoom, e.g. guessing challenges, sharing funny memes, virtual book club, guided meditations, etc. Remember laughter creates endorphins, so you can claim your silly jokes as healthy workouts.

And if you’ve never engaged with a client in this way, now’s the time to give it a crack! You’ll be amazed at just how much a stronger social bond can improve your working relationship and ideas. It’s important to stay connected in this time of covid-19, and the extra bonus is that playification will also help you get your work groove back!

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