Jason has a secure job with a good income. When Covid19 restrictions meant that his company offices had to close, he along with almost the whole team began to work from home. At first Jason was quite excited about the new flexibility now open to him. He was able to be more involved in his family activities. Zoom video calls were a great way to connect and work with his team. He could wear what he liked below the waist. He got to see into his team members private world and meet their children and pets and see them with bad hair. Over the first few weeks he and his team were able to maintain excellent levels of productivity. And he certainly did not miss the tedious daily commute in peak hour traffic.
The novelty with wfh soon began to wear off
After about 6 weeks the novelty began to wear off. Zoom calls seemed to work for business activity and decisions but he missed the real-life connections with his colleagues. He was becoming tireder than usual by the weekend. Part of the problem was that every day felt just like the day before. He was functioning well but the lines between work and home had become very blurry. He enjoyed the fact that he could drop the kids to school and pick them up some days. And there were other benefits. However, he had come to realise he was less productive in the mornings and now often needed to work into the night to complete his work by agreed deadlines. His kids were happy that dad was at home more but were beginning to be resentful that he was always busy working.
With most of his work done in an office which is 5 metres from his bedroom in one direction and the kitchen in the other, it was difficult to maintain any sense of separation between work and home. The danger Jason noticed was that he NEVER LET DOWN from work. He did not disengage. Work details were always ticking over in the back of his mind. Over weeks and months this had become extremely draining.
For Jason, the rhythms of his life had been severely disrupted and now 4 months later, he felt like everything needed a reset. He was not sure how to make that happen. This pandemic appears to have changed a lot of things about work forever. What started out as a temporary change has been in place long enough for many companies to realise the benefits of at least some employees working from home.
Whether you work from home occasionally or regularly there are some aspects of working behaviour that need to be reset to make it work successfully. Otherwise, like Jason, you will find the line between work and home becomes very blurry.
10 elements required for a successful wfh reset
- Physical set up – Make sure you have a designated office space, set up with a good ergonomically set up workstation and chair. Your employer should be able to help you with this if you need equipment. E.g. you can create a sit/stand variation that allows you to vary your position if you are at a desk all day.
- Structure – You need a ‘whole of life’ approach to planning your wfh structure. It is important to look ahead. Ideally each 90 days. Then you have a context for your daily, weekly, and monthly structure. The danger is that work deadlines overwhelm family life. You need to be aware and have personal and family events and activities to anticipate. Some people find such planning hard. Talk it over with your partner, a friend or a mentor and find a structure that works for you. You cannot let it drift or work will start take over your life.
- Start and finish each day and each week in a similar fashion. You need to create your own rhythm that works for you. Make a quick but clear plan for each day. Determine the ONE thing that MUST be done today and get that done early. A starting and finishing work routine helps make the line between work and home a lot clearer. One way to end each day is to quickly note the first thing that needs to be done tomorrow and set that up ready to begin. Some like to clear their desk as well as shut down their computer. Some head out for a run to make a bookend to the workday.
- Schedule – make sure you establish some control over your schedule. Back to back zoom meetings are not a fruitful way to get work done. You need some uninterrupted time to focus on your important work. Where possible limit your meetings and calls to one part of each day and keep them short.
- Connection – plan a coffee with someone local (or at least a phone call or a 1-2-1 zoom call) with people you enjoy connecting with a few times each week. This will brighten and lighten your mood and feel less like work. Let this function like a coffee break or lunch break would at the office.
- Margins – leave some spaces in your day for time to replenish mentally and emotionally. Take a short break every 45 minutes to alleviate pressure on your neck, and to move your body. Go and pick up the kids, or hang out the washing, or walk around the block and listen to a podcast. Margins also allow you time to deal with unexpected issues that arise.
- Discipline – your reset will not happen if you are not disciplined. Last thing Friday, plan the next week so you have some margins, and some connection calls booked in. Allocate a block of time to get your main work done each day and book your calls in around it.
- Boundaries – We need to learn to know what is important in our lives so we can consistently say ‘yes’ to those people and things. We also need to learn to say ‘no’ to those things that may be good, but they compete with other important parts of our world. Every time I say ‘yes’ to fit in another work appointment, I may be saying ‘no’ to my child or partner, or time spent to keep fit and healthy. As Cloud and Townsend (Boundaries, 1992) have taught us, “healthy boundaries enable us to say ‘yes’ without obligation and ‘no’ without guilt”.
- Map your world – we all need to determine what is important in our world. Our partner, children, parents, friends, certain life goals, our health, personal growth, etc. Make sure you have all these things in mind as you plan each 90 days. More than anything else in our lives, our work has the capacity to expand to dominate everything. It is interesting that business success is most often sabotaged by issues that arise from neglected areas of your personal life. So, it pays to think through and map what is important in your world. This helps you make sure you allow appropriate time to nurture and develop all that is important.
- Self-respect – None of this will happen easily. It will not happen at all if you do not have healthy self-respect. In my book INTEGRATE (2016) I discussed how the key to integrating work with all that is important in your life must start with self-respect. Self-respect is all about being secure in who you are, knowing your values, your strengths, and weaknesses. It is also about knowing what you want and being free to go for it each day. Respecting yourself enough to keep appointments with yourself. This enables you to freely allocate time to focus on your work, to shut out interruptions and other people’s agendas. You can do this even as an employee. Self-respect helps you want to prioritise self-care so you can always have energy for when you need it (at home and work).
Integrate NOT balance
Work-life balance is a MYTH. Your life will never be balanced especially if you are passionate about the work you do. A better word is Integrate. We need to learn to integrate our work with all that is important in our world. This does not just happen. It requires all 10 elements listed above.
Since I wrote my book in 2016, work-life integration has become a more common phrase. My biggest concern with those who are using the term “work-life integration” is that it becomes code for ‘always working’. Flexibility is great. Working from home means you can work your own hours. The danger is that we are always working. We respond to work emails at 9:00pm …. even on a Saturday.
To make wfh enjoyable and productive long-term, we MUST regularly take time to disengage fully from work. A day each week without turning on your computer or looking at your phone would be a start. Holidays where you do the same will totally refresh you. The pressure of holding zillions of work details in your head and being ready to be ON all the time is literally wearing you out. It is unhealthy, and ultimately unproductive. Busy people in responsible roles need to take 3 weeks and stop completely at least once per year. A few shorter breaks during the year are important as well.
If you would like the line between work and home to become less blurry, it is up to you. But it will involve much more than learning to become more efficient or to set up the latest organisational app.
I suggest you take some of the time you are saving with less commuting and use it to think about your life. Use the 10 elements outlined above to think about how to better integrate your work with your world. For those who think it is not a problem for you, keep this article, or the link to my book, and one day when you are ready, you will know where to look to have a framework to do this important work. Whether you work from home or not, the 10 elements are relevant to all who want a better lifestyle, not just more efficient work practices.
If you need help with creating your ‘whole of life’ 90-day plan please click here to enroll in my next online Quarterly Planning Workshop.