January 08, 2021

How to maintain a work-life balance during the pandemic

By Renée Sylvestre-Williams

How do you manage a healthy work-life balance when your career and personal life merges in one location? Here are some things to consider as you continue to work from home. 

The pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives. That’s true at work, too, with so many people working from home. These days, Canadians are re-examining what work-life balance actually means — both now and after the crisis ends.

The old understanding of work-life balance was based on the idea of dedicated work hours and separate personal-life time. But increasingly today, life doesn’t work that way. Balance has become more subjective, depending on:

  • where you work (e.g. your home office, bedroom or living room),
  • your stage in your career and life,
  • your company’s flexibility and more.

Even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and shift to work from home, many were starting to rethink the idea of work-life “balance.” No more putting work in one bucket and life in another, with a set equation to balance the two. Instead, for many people, it now makes more sense to consider a blend of all aspects of your life, both professional and personal.

Here’s a look at how you can start rethinking the framework of work-life balance in today’s environment.

1. Focus on your goals, not time spent

More and more, employers are reassessing the idea that people need to work a certain number of hours in order to have a productive work day. Researchers say that no one is working for eight hours a day. In fact, the Harvard Business Review found that the idea of rewarding the quantity of work penalizes many workers.

Instead, studies have found that workers are more productive and remain with companies longer when they’re given the freedom to focus on their objectives versus simply logging hours.

So it may be time to stop keeping track of the number of minutes you spend online and talk to your employer about finding different ways to measure success. Ask yourself, “What is the strategic goal you want to achieve?” And then create a plan to get there.

2. Talk to your colleagues about your work-from-home situation

What happens when employees work from home? Kids want attention, pets bark, partners ask questions, fire alarms go off, etc. In other words, life happens during business hours.

It’s important for you and your colleagues to be aware of how life and work can intersect throughout the day for any given person on your team.

If you haven’t already, take time to find out which of your co-workers is homeschooling or providing childcare throughout the day. Or, find out if any of them are working with a flexible schedule.

In return, make sure your colleagues know about your personal situation. You may be in the same “working-from-home-with-the-kids-at-home” situation as they are. Or perhaps you’re taking care of a loved one who’s sick while managing work-related tasks. Your co-workers will be more understanding about your flexible schedule if they know beforehand what you’re dealing with on a regular basis.

This type of communication also allows people to ask for help if they need it. So if you ever have a lot on your plate, you’ll feel more comfortable turning to your colleagues for support and help with managing your workload.

If your situation at home has left you feeling particularly overwhelmed or anxious, be sure to seek professional help. Find out if your workplace benefits come with an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). These programs often provide free virtual therapy or e-counselling sessions for you and your family. Talk to your employer or HR department for more information on how to access mental-health resources at work.

3. Make the most out of technology for remote workers

One of the reasons people are hesitant to take time off is a fear of falling behind on their projects. One way to avoid that pressure is to use technology so that people have transparency into their colleagues’ work.

Project-management software, instant messaging applications, email groups. There’s no shortage of solutions available. No matter which works best for an individual business, the goal is to give teams insight into what each member is working on. That way, people can help each other with projects with the understanding that they’ll get support when it’s their turn to take time off.

4. Ask for flexible work arrangements or a post-COVID-19 work-from-home schedule

For employees who want to take a more proactive stand to better their work-life balance, the key is to make a clear case to your managers or company leadership.

As an example, let’s say you want to keep working remotely, but your manager wants you back in the office. Does that mean you’re destined to return to that long commute? Not necessarily.

Think about the potential issues to remaining remote and provide reasonable solutions. If your boss is worried about your productivity, show them how you continue to meet and exceed your objectives. If they’re concerned about a lack of communication, highlight your responsiveness during the pandemic.

Keep communicating with your manager and reassure them that your performance hasn’t and won’t change just because you’re not in the office. The pandemic has shown that remote working can be done without a loss in productivity. That's a strong argument in favour of not returning to the office five days a week.

If there’s some hesitation, try negotiating remote working on a trial basis or for a few days a week.

Work-life balance solutions will succeed only if they’re enthusiastically embraced by employees and implemented by employers and leadership.

What will happen to work-life balance after COVID-19?

It’s still unclear what will happen to the idea of work-life balance after the pandemic. But it’s certain that the idea of what it means is changing.

Times of crisis often bring opportunities to rethink old ways of doing things. Now is exactly that opportunity to ask your company or team leaders to determine what the future of work looks like for their businesses and employees.

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