We all want a good work- life balance; it has become so much more of a talking point since the first lockdown of 2020 when we all forced to work from home. Effectively that migration to homeworking broke the natural barrier between work life and home life.
Before lockdown, the majority of people could leave work at the office. When they logged off, they decompressed on the drive home, turned up at their house and were then in home mode. Now for lots of people home life and office life are one in the same. You put the kids to bed, you walk passed the back bedroom, where your laptop is and you sneak in and do some more emails. It might have exacerbated by the fact that at the start of the first lockdown there was literally nothing else to do, so people were filling their time by doing extra work.
Sadly, a consequence of this is increases in feelings of overwhelm, which is affecting people’s mental health and is detrimental for ongoing performance.
Whereas the definition of work-life balance is pretty straight forward; you work when you need to and are doing completely non-work things for the rest of your time, the definition of work- life integration is rather more subjective, and what is optimum integration anyway?
I have found is that while I work the same amount as I did when I was going to the office, my working hours are completely different. Now, instead of a commute, I take my daughter to school and because I am at home, I can help with the baby’s lunch. These are now two events in my diary. But then I work for an hour and a half in the evening, not because my work-life balance is skewed, it’s just that I spread my work around the day, which feels like an optimum situation for me.
Others may choose to start with a run at 4am before they start work at six and finish at three to collect the kids, which demonstrates that the hybrid model provides a genuine opportunity for business owners to truly own their time and create a better quality of life. But there is a risk that we now fill every single second of our day. Getting the work-life integration right is a new skillset and one that probably requires more self-discipline to create the boundaries that allow you be productive but still access a better quality of life.
Dolly Parton, sang about it but the concept of nine-to-five isn’t a true reflection of life anymore and we need to achieve better work- life integration to balance the amount of time we’re working with the amount of time we’re not. When we were all home schooling the Cypher team kept varied ‘office hours’ in order to maintain some semblance of normality, particularly for the children. It meant we responded to emails late at night, but if you contacted us at three o’clock on a Thursday we weren’t available. Lockdown has changed the boundaries of what is an acceptable time to contact people.
For me business owners are used to working extra, longer and odder ours. It’s the team that this is new for. If you’re managing a team and offer a hybrid working model, work-life integration will be important to maintain productivity, mental health and balance.
It’s about setting good boundaries and providing clarity on what each individual’s role is, what good looks like and what they need to accomplish in any given time period. Then people can manage their time, integrate your business into their life and if they deliver on expectations they know they have done a good job, which keeps everyone motivated.
Secondly, while there is plenty of evidence to suggest that productivity is higher in a hybrid workforce, business owners shouldn’t underestimate the value of looking after their teams, staying in regular contact, reaching out, setting expectations around email usage and timings for switching on but importantly logging off.
Now it just so happens that I recently managed a potential client crisis from my bath! I was communicating with a team member and a client – not on video calls for obvious reasons- but we averted any real danger and got the job done. Did anyone care that I was in the bath, or at my kitchen table or at a cottage in the Cotswolds.
Google meanwhile have issued their policy on the hybrid working model. It’s three words; flexibility and choice. Basically the employee gets to choose what’s right for them! They have access to all the tech in the world but, more importantly, they recognise the value and maturity of their employees and trust them to make good decisions.
It proves another of the unintended consequences of remote working was to shatter one of the most durable myths about a workforce: if you can’t see them, you can trust them. Nonsense, business owners need to get over themselves.
We are entering a situation where, as more employees are able to really integrate work into their home life, they simply won’t want to go back to the office, at least not full time and the employers that demand it of them will soon find themselves losing lots of good people, probably to the benefit of their competitors because of their short-sightedness.
Clearly there are some businesses that need people physically in the workplace; retail, hospitality, manufacturing but many don’t and if there’s a choice, because a job could be done as effectively- or even better -at home as in the office, then surely it’s a least worth the conversation.
I think a hybrid model is going to become the natural bias for employees. Your talent pool has gone global but if you want access to the best people it’s going to be an absolute prerequisite that you allow them to work flexibly and provide an integrated approach to the work-life balance.
Now a lot of people may have been ready for this hybrid approach for many years but the infrastructure or tech simply wasn’t available to support it. That’s changed radically and we are part of a new paradigm, let’s embrace this hybrid model and the opportunities it offers to integrate work into life.