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  • Harry Brownbill


Updated: May 24, 2022


This week it kicked in… if you’re like me you may have noticed the slowness with which people have been once again taking advantage of their freedom and the gradual return to ‘normal’. For me it was only this past weekend when it suddenly felt…. well…open.

There were several big events taking place in Melbourne and one quick flick of Instagram revealed hundreds (if not thousands) of people out and about, experiencing music, attending events, going to restaurants, and having what looked to be a really great time. And it made me think about lockdown and what affect is has had on us.

What have we learnt or are still to learn about how our brains have adapted to lockdown (and conversely, coming out of lockdown)?

Besides finding out Daniel Andrews likes to “get on the beers”, Lockdown 1.0, 2.0 or however many 0’s, taught as a few things – myself included.

For the 40% of Australians who worked a 5-day week, 9-5, it was a shocking day in 2020 when we were told we’d be working from home for the foreseeable future. However, there was also a progressive element to it, a transitioning from the ‘pre’- days to the ‘post’-days. Sure at the start this was exciting, you had the idea in your head about more flexibility, more time, a transition to a more flexible working arrangement. However, I think this slowly started to wain as lockdown held its grip.

To me each lockdown had its own personality or flavor to it. You had the lockdown 1.0 “yay this is life now”! stage. I remember the novelty of getting on calls with friends and there was that 15 minutes of fame app “House Party” that everyone used for one day. In addition to this sense of novelty, we also felt as though we had been given more freedom, more independence “I’ve got time to work on my fitness, read books, learn things, become a crypto millionaire…”

Then lockdown 2.0 came along, replacing this excitement with a deep sense of uncertainty. The word inertia and/or eternity comes to mind when I think of lockdown 2.0. Then there was 3.0 - the sequel to 2.0 but with no new plot or story which made it incredibly boring. Sort of like a re-run…. then there was 4.0; the king, the emperor of LOCKY D’s.

Each had their own unique style, yet I think since that first lockdown when our freedoms were restricted (office being closed, travel being banned) we were forced onto a new trajectory in our day to day lives.

Our cognitive processes and patterns had to learn how to adapt and do things differently.

It’s this I’m most interested in. What changes have occurred or are we aware of currently and what might be some learnings for the future?


Arguably the funniest man to ever set foot in an office, Mr. David Brent once said: “My world doesn’t revolve around these 4 walls.” I guess we can say yes, it can now.

I’m not saying that having your life contained within 4 walls is right or healthy, it’s merely stating the fact that we’ve done it for almost 2 years, and it can be done. Never had people thought of their bedroom as their meeting room, nor their kitchen table as their classroom. In Melbourne for most of 2020 and nearly half of 2021, we got accustomed to the fact that where we LIVE can also be the place where we WORK (in addition to being the place where we spend all our free time and do everything else.)

The idea of working from home is not new though. Prior to the industrial revolution all skilled workers and artisans would work from home. It wasn’t until the rise of the factory and the office that there was a transition to a central workplace.

Pre-industrial revolution? That’s 1750 – 1850. We are now in 2021 almost 2022.

No-one living in this pandemic was alive at that time, so I guess the working from home thing remains novel – if not new. We have been very much stuck in our ways of going to the workplace during the day and coming home at night and that’s the way it’s been for over a century.

According to the recent ‘Working From Home’ report conducted by the government, most workers want to continue working from home, at least some of the time. (Australian Government, 2021).

This suggests that companies will ultimately start to adopt and encourage a hybrid model with staff being able to enjoy the office to collaborate and socialize several days a week while still spending some time at home.

Getting this balance right is key and if done correctly will only benefit productivity, workplace wellbeing and satisfaction, which is a good lead in to my next point…


I used to dread the commute into work. I much preferred getting up as early as possible to avoid the traffic, not get stuck in confined spaces and most of all have some free time in the office before distractions interrupted any work I needed to do.

Looking back on it now though, that time commuting was very important. It represented a transition from two separate modes. Not just in a physical sense but in an emotional or spiritual one too.

There’s a misconception that remote working is more easy-going than heading to the office. The pandemic has blurred the boundaries between work and home, leaving it impossible for some people to fully switch off.

A United Nations report found that 41% of remote workers said they had high stress levels compared to 25% of employees who went to the office every day (Habibi, 2021). It is of course dependent on the specific environment you are coming in and out of. Let’s be honest, going from one high stress environment to another may not give the brain the switch off it needs. But the point I’m making is going into an office, seeing colleagues, collaborating for the day and then being able to come home at night to relax, watch TV, read, socialize with friends etc. represents two very distinct modes.

More than anything, the very notion of switching off and variety in environment is what people will want more in their life moving forward and as COVID becomes a thing of the past. While some people may enjoy the ability to work 100% from home, most people are going to be welcoming a change in environment from time to time. Their brain will benefit from it too!


A study conducted in 2019 by RMIT university found that the average time commuting to and from work each day in Melbourne was around 66 minutes.

(Australian city workers’ average commute has blown out to 66 minutes a day. How does yours compare?, 2019)

If we take that additional 66 mins given back to you because of lockdown and multiply it by the number of days in lockdown starting 2020 (March) and ending 2021 (November) that’s 260+ hours.

That’s 260 hours of additional time you have been given over the last 1.5 years which would have been spent sitting on a tram, sitting in traffic or anywhere else that can be classified as ‘dead time’.

Arguably this time could have been spent adding something to your routine, working on personal goals, spending more time with friends and family, starting a business or starting a hobby but I guess it depends on what type of person you are and whether you saw it as an opportunity or just some more time added to your day to do nothing (sleep in maybe…).

The research suggests that while there was a desire for people to better themselves with this free time - especially to stay active and healthy during the lockdown not just for their physical wellbeing but more for their mental wellbeing, the ugly truth was that the uncertainty and stress prompted by lockdowns made it even harder for people to maintain a routine - especially for fitness.

I guess the question for me, as we go back to ‘normal’, is will we start to realize the benefits of squeezing that extra hour in to do x? Will we value the time we have more now?

That’s just some of my key learnings from lockdown and how it has and will affect us in the future. 2021 is nearly over (thank God). And as we head into 2022, this time armed with vaccination and better awareness and understanding of the virus, we will enter a new phase of this currently 2-year crusade. Living with it. And as we start to really live with it and transition out of any lockdowns that’s when we will start to see the full affect/impact it has had on our lives, especially our working lives.


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