Recently I’ve been doing a lot of workshops with leadership teams in organisations (from all sectors) and one of the recurrent themes which is coming through is about how hybrid working has meant that, for many, they feel they must be ‘permanently on’ and that, actually, work has now fully invaded most people’s home lives and there is very little distinction between ‘home’ and ‘work’ anymore. It’s something I felt was important to address in this month’s Meta blog, and I give you a practical Meta exercise to do around it!
During the pandemic, we all learnt to embrace a new way of working. We now, for example, use virtual technology like MS Teams or Zoom or Google hangouts – no matter what size or sector our organisation is from. We all will spend some of our time (there is tremendous variation in how much time, depending on your organisation) working from home and much less time working at the office. The hybrid model is very much in full flow, and many organisations have already gotten rid of office space and have re-purposed the space they have for ‘collaborative working’ only.
This means that more of the responsibility falls on us to manage our workloads, manage our teams, and manage our working days. The problem is that, for many of us, we are still working as if we are in the pandemic, there is always a new urgent thing to be done, the tide and pace of work is relentless, and the amount of work seemingly unending!
Now in our experience at Meta, almost everyone we come into contact with in organisations wants to give of their best, they want to do a good job, and get what needs to be done, done. So, in order to do that, they have to put the hours in. As I’ve mentioned many times before, we are ALL working longer hours than we used to – in the pandemic, research showed that we were working, on average, an extra 4hours per week above the average for 2019. From our own empirical research here at Meta with our own leadership network, we believe this has not returned to pre-pandemic levels, just because we are now out of the pandemic.
Most people are still working incredibly hard to get it all done and the danger is, if we’re not careful, that we normalise the extreme working practices which were necessary during the pandemic.
I can remember, 21 years ago, working at Virgin Mobile and the then Director of IT showing me the ‘future of technology’ – a Blackberry phone. He proudly told me this was ‘a game changer in the world of work’ – and he was right, but not for the reasons he stated. It meant that now work could follow you home, the office could reach you, and emails could chase you wherever you were!
Email checking on the weekend or turning laptops back on of an evening to do a bit of catching up with work, USED to only be done by senior executives and leaders, but now almost every manager does at almost every level, to varying degrees.
Many senior leaders complain to me that they’re often spending most of their workday in back-to-back MS Teams meetings, and actually the only way they can get their ‘day-job tasks’ done is by turning their laptops back on at home, once most people’s working day is done.
For most organisations, now the worst effects of the pandemic are over or are at the very least relenting somewhat. It’s time for us all to stop working ourselves at an unsustainable pace, one that ultimately could have a significant effect on our mental and physical health. It’s also time for organisations to stop and re-assess HOW they want to work going forwards. Is the hybrid model REALLY WORKING for your staff? Is it really enabling the organisation to get the best from their people?
Look, there is no doubt that you will have done amazing things during the pandemic period and gone way beyond the call of duty, often so as to get what needs to get done – done. However, now we are out of the pandemic, it’s time to re-assess our work-life balance – get it back into some kind of balance – and one of the key ways we can do that is to re-set and re-establish our own personal boundaries.
We can quite often let work impinge on our home life, on our personal lives. Why? Because we don’t keep it in check. As more is needed of us, we put more time in, especially now when we’re working from home often. The tide of work has slowly seeped in, and because we didn’t set boundaries or define what IS ok and what is NOT ok, the extended working hours we did because we were working from home during Covid, or because we didn’t have enough staff in our team, or because we were working on that special project – have become our new normal. Before we know it, we have no balance in our life, it is just work, work-work.
Think to your own current work practices. Do you have set work times to your day (and keep to them?), or do you work until you’ve done your to-do list? Even if that means working beyond your normal working hours? Do you take your lunch break? Do you take breaks between your virtual meetings? Or do you end up having back-to-back meetings and struggle to find time to take the breaks that you know you should be taking?
Now is a good time to reset the boundaries, to say what IS and ISN’T right for you. Of course, we are all individuals, some of us don’t mind answering emails on the train home or turning our laptops back on in the evenings, some of us like to get in early or start early (*but do we really GO HOME or FINISH early??).
Now, more than ever, it is important to get that balance back, to re-establish boundaries. Not harsh ones but sensible ones. If you’ve lost your commute home time because you’re working from home, now is the time to re-establish that boundary. If you don’t have a set working time to your working day, now is the time to re-establish and agree a sensible working day for you. What about NOT taking your laptop home for the weekend? Or putting it away out of sight at the end of your working day? How about making sure you always have your lunch break and morning/afternoon breaks? Or get a walk/exercise/fresh air each day?
This is something that we at Meta do as part of our “working smarter not harder” workshops with leaders, teams and organisations, and it’s an exercise that we think EVERYONE should be doing now. So, that’s why we felt it was important to share with you this exercise. It’s something that of course will benefit YOU, but it’s also something that is worth SHARING and DOING with your team if you’re a leader.
RE-ESTABLISHING BOUNDARIES EXERCISE:
EX – Have a think about your current working practice. Be honest with yourself, what IS working and what is NOT working about your working practice at the moment? You know what would work best for you, you know where you’ve let your boundaries slip. So, what boundary/boundaries would you like to set up in your work/home life? – Make them realistic and see if you can stick to them.
I hope you’ll use this month’s blog as an excuse to reassess your hybrid working practice, and I hope that by re-establishing your boundaries you’ll get a greater sense of work-life balance in your life!
Have a wonderful month everyone!
In peace, Joe x