Modern life is demanding. Sometimes, very demanding. How we work, rest and play have changed a lot over the years. The modern family will often have both parents working to meet life’s financial challenges in the 21st century. And for a single-parent family, those challenges can be even greater.
It has often been the case that any sense of ‘me’ is lost among the demands put on our lives. Things like mortgage or rent, food and clothing, utility bills, childcare costs, school schedules, children’s leisure activities, and more. With all that going on, is it any surprise that you often forget about yourself?
All these demands and challenges are not just about time and money, either. Research shows that people who have high work and family responsibilities are more susceptible to mental health issues. Stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems are all too common in modern life.
So how do we deal with these challenges? Many people seek to find the ideal work-life balance that will reduce the likelihood of physical or mental health issues and improve their quality of life. The kind of balance that will allow more time to be spent with the family or pursuing leisure activities, and to regain ownership of that sense of ‘me’.
2020 has been a tumultuous period due to the Coronavirus pandemic. It has seen many workers furloughed or homeworking. And it has opened the discussion on hybrid working being the new paradigm as we move forward. Many see it as the ideal way to find that work-life balance.
But just what is work-life balance? And does hybrid working offer the ideal way to achieve this? With time split between home and office, it would certainly seem so. But it is not necessarily as easy as it sounds. It won’t just naturally occur, so we look at ten ways to achieve and maintain that work-life balance working from home.
What Exactly is Work-Life Balance?
As the name suggests, work-life balance is finding the right mix of your work-based activities and those in your personal life. The latter could include spending time with family, pursuing hobbies and sports, or simply finding ‘me’ time to relax and do nothing.
The perfect remote working-life balance will mean different things to different people, and before looking at HOW to achieve it, look at WHAT you want to achieve. One person’s idea of happiness may be very different from another’s.
Work-life balance has become more topical recently. That has been partly due to the enforced level of remote working due to the COVID pandemic, but mainly due to the advances in technology that have made remote working so much easier to do.
Before the advances in video conferencing software, VoIP technology, and related solutions, it was almost impossible to work from home for extended periods. With cloud-based computing solutions, the home’s idea as an office has become a reality, and the line between personal time and professional time has become less clear.
To start building towards your ideal hybrid work-life balance, we need to examine what challenges we face in hybrid working. Once we identify the hurdles to overcome, we can then start looking at what strategies for hybrid work will help attain our goals.
Common Challenges of Hybrid Working
No matter your type of business, several issues may arise if you shift your workforce to a hybrid model. Recognising these and developing strategies to overcome them is an essential part of building a hybrid workplace.
1. Divided workforce.
Depending on how much of your workforce you are moving to the hybrid model, there is a chance that there will be some division. This may be especially true if your management team is spending more time at the office than other employees. It can result in there being a decrease in information shared, including important decisions.
You can mitigate this issue by ensuring there are regular video conference calls with all members of a particular team. And regular contact by management, even if on a semi-formal basis, can help bridge any divide.
2. Power balance.
Whether real or perceived, you may experience some issues with the balance of power in your workforce. Those who are physically in the office may be seen as being ‘closer to the action’ than those who homework. There may also be a feeling that office-based workers will be more likely to be assigned new tasks than those working remotely.
Ensure that all tasks are delegated fairly. Avoid the temptation to cross the office and give a new task to someone working in situ. Share out all work evenly across your team or workforce.
Productivity challenges can occur on several levels. There may be a belief by management or office-based staff that those working remotely will not be as productive. There may even be a belief by remote staff that they do not have to be as productive or find it difficult to be.
Again, ensure task allocation is fair and even. Set goals and deadlines to make sure that work is done promptly. Monitor as closely as possible without micromanaging or making the remote staff feel they are constantly watched. You will find that most people will maintain a good workflow during any work time.
4. Career development and promotions.
It may be the case that a situation develops where career development opportunities and advancement become skewed in favour of those working in the office, as opposed to remotely. It may be that the managers ‘notice’ the efforts of office-based staff more than those working at home.
To avoid this, assess all staff equally. Base decisions on what they do, not where they do it. And also ensure that any training opportunities are available to all. With video conferencing tools, it is easy to hold virtual training, team-building exercises, and webinars that everyone can access.
Ten Top Tips for Achieving That Work-Life Balance When Hybrid Working
So, your company has decided to move to a hybrid working model. That means you will be working remotely for a significant period of time. You see this as an opportunity to achieve that fabled work-life balance and have identified what that specifically means to you.
But what can you do to achieve that goal? And, perhaps more importantly, what can you do to maintain it?
1. Be realistic.
Working from home will never quite be the same as working in your office. Not only do you not physically have your colleagues around you, but you don’t have access to the same equipment. Compartmentalise your tasks and schedule different work for when you are at home or the office.
If your task requires printing off lots of physical documents, it is perhaps best done when at the office (if possible). Set realistic goals and remember that working from home may not produce perfection, but you can aim for excellence. Make your dedicated workspace work for you and be prepared to adapt and change as you progress.
Sitting at a desk in any environment is not exactly a healthy pursuit. But when working from home, you have more opportunities to break that cycle. This is good for you on several levels. It breaks the monotony of the working day; it increases the flow of endorphins, reduces stress, and helps with concentration if working on a major task.
It doesn’t have to be a full-on gym session. Take the dog (if you have one) for a walk or go for a walk alone. Do some basic stretching exercises (if you are unsure of how-to, there are many how-to videos on YouTube). Breaking up your day with small periods of exercise is a great strategy that helps with that work-life balance.
You actually have an opportunity to eat more healthily if working from home. But that will only work if you avoid the temptation of all those snacks and unhealthy items lurking in your fridge or cupboard. Many people will eat unhealthily if working in the office: that fast food item saves you some time or the crisps or chocolate that will keep you going until lunchtime.
Stick to an eating schedule when working from home. Set aside a lunch break when you step away from your desk. It is even a good idea, if possible, to prepare and freeze some healthy meals in advance. A healthy diet is a part of achieving a better work-life balance.
Just because you are working from home does not mean that you have to be plugged into work all of the time. Make sure that there are occasions when you totally disconnect from work and tasks. Avoid the urge to check emails out of ‘working hours’ unless essential. Work-related burnout is far more avoidable when working remotely.
Space out your working day. You may have had a set schedule while in the office, but when at home you are, to an extent, your own boss. As long as you are completing the required tasks and reaching any goals set, you can set your own work pace over the course of the week. Take time to turn off from work and allow yourself time to relax and take breaks.
5. Eliminate time-wasting.
Time wasters – and wasting time yourself – can be a major hurdle in any working environment. In an office-based scenario, it may be that person who always wants to ‘chat’, even if it distracts you from your work. But that can extend to when you work from home, too. That same person may decide to utilise your video call software to have that same distracting conversation.
But you too can be guilty of time-wasting, particularly if you are working alone at home. That ten-minute coffee break can easily turn to an hour if something distracts you. While one of the major attractions of working from home is a more flexible schedule, that should not mean that you allow yourself to slack off too often.
6. Establish a working day.
While flexibility is one of the major attractions of hybrid working, you should still establish some routine in your workday. Your home-based routine may not be as set as your office-based one, but a loose set of rules will help make the experience better. Homelife and time spent in any home office should still have some structure.
This can be especially true if one of your own work-life balance aims is to spend more time with family. Still sitting at your desk while the rest of your family are there is not what you were aiming for. Unless you have an imminent deadline, set an approximate time to switch off from work and go to leisure mode. That task can maybe wait until the next day unless having to reply to respondents.
Yes, you don’t have a commute if working from home! That not only saves you time but also money, as well as reducing some stress levels. Figure this fact into how you establish your working day. But it is also worth remembering that for many people, the commuting period is when they prepare for the working day ahead (or fully wake up).
Have some routine at either end of your working day, but especially at the start. Going straight from bed, shower, and workspace could end up being restrictive on some of your faculties. Take the time to wake up, have breakfast, maybe watch some news. One of the great attractions of more flexible working hours is that you can start working when you feel ready.
8. Social interactions.
One of the things many people enjoy working in an office environment is interactions with colleagues. Conversations do not always have to be work-related. Often they may be banal and lacking in-depth, but still offer a positive experience. Those chats around the watercooler often help nurture a sense of team spirit.
Just because you and those same colleagues are now remote workers does not mean this has to be lost. Organise a group of close peers to ‘meet’ as many times a week as you want. That video conferencing software does not have to be only used for work activities. And if there are particular team members you are close to, even have one to one conversations using VoIP.
9. Don’t overthink.
If you are new to hybrid working, do not expect things to work perfectly at the first attempt. For many people, the idea of hybrid working and a work-life balance is a new concept. It may take some time to adjust to this new way of working and get yourself up to the speed you want. Getting used to WFH (work from home) may take some time.
Don’t overthink things and don’t worry if it doesn’t feel right for you at first. Talk to colleagues about how they are coping, while also approaching the problem as an individual. And remember, this is not just about you; it is about your family and loved ones as well. Finding that perfect work-life balance that suits all of you may take time to achieve.
10. Enjoy the experience.
Perhaps the most important thing to do when switching to hybrid working life is to enjoy yourself! Yes, you still have work to do, deadlines to meet, and tasks to complete. But you have more flexibility than you have likely ever had before so use it and enjoy it. This may well become the new normal for many workers.
If you have very young children, you may choose to spend time with them during the day and work some evenings. If older children, you may work ‘traditional’ hours and leave the evening free. And if you are single, you may choose to pursue sports or leisure activities at certain points during the day and split your work up.
Although work-life balance is not an entirely new concept, in many ways, attainable reality, work is nothin in many ways new, so give much of your focus to the LIFE part of the equation. You must think about what your expectations are. Are they focused on family time or for leisure pursuits in your personal life?
Once you know your expectations, you can then look at how you will achieve them and fit them into your working schedule. When in a fixed 5-day 9 to 5 schedule, there are lots of things we may miss out on. You may still have to fulfil a set number of work hours every week, but now you have more choice in how those hours are allocated.
While the COVID pandemic and any lockdowns may have been the catalyst for the mass move to hybrid working, technology is the enabler that allows us to do it well. As technology continues to develop and progress, hybrid working will evolve along with it. It will become easier and, perhaps more importantly, we will become better and more experienced at it.