Virtual Teams

Work life balance – lets be grateful we can work in the evening

I have read a few articles and tweets recently on the difficulty of finding work life balance when working from home. It can be a challenge as I know myself, my weekly Microsoft analytics email keeps nagging me for answering emails outside normal working hours.

However, work life balance goes both ways, there are advantages and there is a price to be paid.

We should not forget that the whole lockdown was driven by life, not work. It is designed to protect our families and communities. Happily, many of us have had the option and the technology that enables us to retain our work and incomes over this period. We have been the lucky ones able to reduce risk and maintain living standards. Many people around the world have been able to do neither.

There is quite a difference between choosing to work from home and having to be home because of a global pandemic and then trying to work. From what I have seen, most companies have been very flexible and accommodating of the unique needs of this period of working from home and most individuals have done a fantastic job of maintaining a reasonable level of productivity.

I know it’s tough to balance the needs of work with family commitments such as home schooling or looking after dependents, Personally, if I have the flexibility to manage this during the day I do expect to catch up with my urgent work in the evening. I have my own business so if I don’t work, I don’t get paid. If you are lucky enough to get paid whether you work or not, then I think you have an obligation to do whatever you can to support your employers continued survival, without them your life balance would not be positive.

Before the pandemic I had a discussion with a group of virtual team members who were complaining about work life balance. Later in the day we did a mini survey on how they spent their time and they admitted to spending over an hour a day at work looking at social media or doing personal tasks – apparently according to surveys this is not unusual.

If we spend an hour a day on life tasks during work time, we cannot complain if we need to spend an hour of our outside work time on work tasks to catch up. This seems fair enough to me. It is actually a benefit allowing me to have a flexible day to get things done. When my kids were young, I often finished early to spend time with them then caught up in the evening when they were asleep.

We are moving to a difficult phase of the pandemic. We need to find that right balance between protecting people’s health and restarting our economies. There will always be a level of risk in this. The only way to be completely safe is never to go anywhere. It is easy to take a one-dimensional stance and say health should always be the most important thing. Viewed in isolation of course it is. However, without a healthy economy and the employment that brings we will experience lots of negative health outcomes such as poverty, poor health facilities and higher rates of mental health problems. This is not a simple binary choice.

Work life balance is similar, you cannot have a balance unless you have both.

It should be possible to reconcile this as we move to a longer-term and sustainable period of working from home at least part of the time. Few people I have spoken to would want to work from home five days a week, but nearly all of them see two or three days a week home working as a positive benefit. Nobody I have spoken to is complaining about missing the daily commute that has given people back several hours per week.

From an employer’s point of view, working from home in normal times tends to increase productivity, enables us to attract and retain a broader range of people and reduces office and other costs.

Without the negative effects of the pandemic we can achieve a win:win where both work and life benefit. In the meantime, perhaps we should suck it up, be grateful we have the option to work from home and do what we can to keep businesses going and look after our families, even if that means a bit of work in the evening or weekend.

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