Before the pandemic, the idea of remote work conjured up a picture-perfect image of work-life balance. For the average office worker, working remotely meant there was no need to jostle with commuters all trying to get to the office at the same time. The time saved on a long commute potentially adds precious hours back into one’s day, offering more time to do the things one enjoys.
People who choose remote work recognise how its flexibility can benefit their lifestyles and give them the work-life balance and freedom that they desire. After all, it all boils down to how one sets up an ideal ‘remote office’ to manage work around daily activities, with little or no distractions.
But this wasn’t the case for the millions of people forced to work from home for the first time due to the pandemic. The ideal work-from-home scenario was far from perfect. The loss of social interactions further took its toll as people struggled to navigate around this new era of worklife. Children were home all the time and some even needed help with online learning. Internet speed at home was inconsistent and erratic. Partners were also working within the same space. Without warning, the hours saved from long commutes have suddenly turned into endless email replies and countless zoom meetings.
A local survey conducted by human resources tech firm EngageRocket found that the top three work-from-home challenges were not having the resources they had in the office, space constraints or distractions and (hardly surprisingly at all) longer working hours than usual.
The fact that we can be connected to work all the time becomes both a blessing and a curse. This growing expectation to be both available and responsive 24/7 is threatening to undo any possible hope of work-life balance, unless individuals and organizations alike do something about it.
As Mark Twain once said: “If the first thing you do in the morning is to eat the frog, then you can continue your day with the satisfaction of knowing that this is probably the worst thing that will happen to you all day.” Author Brain Tracy calls this “eating your frog”, where your frog is your most important task and it should be tackled first thing in the morning. While we can’t always control our work schedules, we can set time aside for priority tasks. More importantly, stick to your plan. List the primary tasks you need to complete for the day or week. Rather than depleting energy on secondary tasks, use your energy to accomplish the most difficult tasks of the day. You’ll realize that the other smaller tasks will seem much easier to handle.
Walk away and have that break. Schedule your meal breaks and have them without guilt. Just as you would an hour of lunch break in the office, make sure you take your meal breaks away from your devices and just focus on enjoying your meal.
Resist the urge to reply to that one email or whatsapp message, whether you are in the middle of something or going off for a break. Unplug yourself from the unrealistic expectation that every single correspondence needs to be replied instantaneously. Our brains need unplugging in order to recharge.
Set aside time for self-care. Prioritize time for exercise, meditation, coffee breaks, hobbies - anything that will relax your mind and body and prepare you with the energy, peace and joy for tackling your daily tasks. You will be surprised at how much better your body will respond and cope with stressful situations when treated positively and with care.
Previously, the office was a place where people came in altogether to coordinate and synchronise their work. Now with remote and hybrid work arrangements, much thought has to go into rethinking how work should be designed so that they can be done independently, without the physical need for coordinating simultaneously with others in the office. The idea of ‘deconstructing’ work into asynchronous projects allows the true flexibility of remote work. For example, if someone needs to attend to personal matters such as caring for their children during work hours, they have the autonomy to work at say, a later time.
For decades, the office fell prey to the notion that more face time equates to higher employee productivity. Employees who were the first to arrive at work and the last to leave were deemed as better employees than those who leave on time. Now that remote work has landed a foothold in this new work era, organizations should stop rewarding the longer workday over a more productive workday. Instead, value the creative ideas that are put forth rather than acknowledging face time at the workplace, be it physical or virtual.
The collapse of work-life boundaries cannot be ignored. Efforts to regain the balance will have positive implications on mental, physical health and long term economic success. This is a task that must not be left to individual employees to manage, but a concerted effort by organizations that value employees’ well-being over performance. Only then will we be able to triumph over this pandemic with healthier, happier employees and more competent organizations.
Read also: What to expect of the future office.
There’s a better way to grow. And it’s not the traditional way.
It’s about rethinking traditional employment archetypes. Can we progress from an economy built on full time employment habitually enslaved by unemployment fears, to one where individuals have greater autonomy and are self motivated to do work that inspires them? And as a result, benefit the economy as a whole?
You can’t own full time employees. But you can build a winning team with talent management companies. As businesses demand more, external talents are emerging as the sure forerunners of an agile workforce. At Chance Upon, we partner businesses to get a head start over competition by creating collaborative work between companies and the right talents.
Bobbi Thomason and Heather Williams, What Will Work-Life Balance Look Like After the Pandemic?, Harvard Business Review (16 Apr 2020)
Chew Hui Min, Work in office, from home, or both? Hybrid work has potential and pitfalls, say experts, Channel News Asia (26 Sep 2020)
Arran James Stewart, Remote work: 3 tips to regain your balance, The Enterprisers Project (11 Sep 2020)
Dave Cook, Remote working: the new normal for many, but it comes with hidden risks – new research, The Conversation (19 Mar 2020)
Philippa Fogarty, Simon Frantz, Javier Hirschfeld, Sarah Keating, Emmanuel Lafont, Bryan Lufkin, Rachel Mishael, Visvak Ponnavolu, Maddy Savage and Meredith Turits, Coronavirus: How the world of work may change forever, BBC Worklife (23 Oct 2020)