10 Tips to Maintain a Work/Life Balance during Lockdown
10 Tips to Maintain a Work/Life Balance during Lockdown
For many leaders, managers and some employees who are able to work from home, the boundaries between work and ‘play’ have become even more blurred during the enforced lockdown. Suddenly many have had to transform their spare bedroom/garage/corner of a kitchen in to their office, or agree with their partner who would have the ‘home office’ as their dedicated work space. As one supplier said to me during week one: ‘I haven’t even got a stapler at home, let alone a desk!’ However, most people adapted well and in doing so surprised the world of business, leading to many questions around the future sustainability of large offices.
Fast forward a few weeks and reality is dawning that we’re not in this for the short-term; some people may never even return to their workplace or for those in the global tech companies, they may never have to. What was a shock at first became the ‘new normal’ but with that acceptance comes an impending perfect storm:
For managers and their team members, who were already extremely busy, the impact of the pandemic threw up a host of new challenges on top of BAU and ongoing projects. Workloads increased and so did working hours. Nine weeks in to lockdown and many managers have worked over weekends and only taken a few days off. With the UK governments guidelines on 14 day quarantine for returning travelers, most people are waving goodbye to their annual Summer holidays abroad. As very few workers want to ‘waste’ their annual leave by spending it at home decorating the spare room, they are storing it up for next year. Add to that the challenge of home schooling and the likelihood that many schools won’t reopen soon, and you can understand why 75% of employers are reportedly expressing concern regarding stress, burnout and mental health issues becoming even more prevalent.
So, how can we maintain a work/life balance during lockdown?
1. Create a Routine:
We are creatures of habit and need routine. Those employees who are furloughed are often missing their routine, are getting bored and even feeling guilty, especially if their partner is working even longer hours at home. Maintaining some sort of new routine with specific physical and diarized boundaries between work and ‘play’ is important.
2. Create a ‘Virtual Commute’:
The morning drive, ride, cycle or walk to the office created physical distance between the home and work and was often a time to plan the day ahead and review it and start to unwind on the way home. Walking from the bedroom/kitchen in to a home office or corner of the lounge doesn’t have the same effect. Add in a partner or children vying for your attention and conflict, confusion and stress can ensue. So, if you can, try to go for a walk or run in the morning to set yourself up for the day. Or, if you’re more of an owl than a lark, then do a gentle workout at home before you sit at your desk. After work, try to spend at least 15 minutes reviewing the day by going for a quick walk or run if you can before you begin family time, or just sit silently at your desk to reflect on the day’s work before you ‘put your Dad/Mum hat’ back on.
3. Communicate even more with your Partner/Family/Friends:
Even though I’ve worked from home for many years, I had to explain to my furloughed friends very early on that I am still working and so can’t answer their calls throughout the day; we scheduled them for the evenings and weekends. Explaining to your loved ones that, even though you are at home, you still have to work is important; being flexible and creating a rota for childcare and home schooling is also key. After a full day of online meetings you may also have to explain that you don’t fancy filling every evening with more screen time at Zoom parties or virtual quiz nights!
4. Avoid ‘Screen Fatigue:’
During a typical working day many managers didn’t used to spend all their time glued to their screens. Usually they were moving from meeting room to meeting room and having a few informal but crucial cross-functional or skip level conversations in corridors or by the water cooler or coffee machine. Working from home has resulted in an increase in meetings and for some has meant over 10 hours in front of the laptop. ‘Screen fatigue,’ tired eyes and ‘fuzzy heads’ have become commonplace. So, it’s more important than ever to review which meetings are essential, change the frequency of them and allow for 5 - 15 minutes in-between each one. Start meetings at quarter past the hour and hold them for 45 minutes to ensure regular breaks.
5. Take Your Breaks:
Make sure that you are not sedentary for 10 hours or more a day in virtual meetings and take regular breaks; go for a short walk if you can, sit in the garden, or do some exercise in the kitchen or lounge. You’ll be more engaged and productive as a result.
6. Block out Time in Your Diary:
If a number of people have access to your online diary, make sure that you diarize your regular breaks and block out time during the day to actually do your work; this means you can avoid having to work longer in the evenings and at weekends just to catch up with emails and write reports.
7. Try to finish work at a Set Time:
Even before lockdown many managers would log on in the evenings or be available until they slept, especially those working for global organizations. It’s important to communicate with your international colleagues what your working pattern is to avoid the ‘California Effect’ of staying up late to respond to emails or calls in Pacific Time. Managing expectations of your key stakeholders is also key to establishing boundaries. This is also important as many working parents are sharing childcare and therefore more are working flexibly later in the evenings.
If you’ve physically left the ‘home office’ and are dedicating time to home schooling or a ‘date night’ then switch off the notifications of your work emails on your phone if you can. Similarly, do so when you are exercising. Then try to switch off all devices at least 1 – 2 hours before bedtime. Again, if you can, have one day a week without work emails or, better still, any emails.
Even though there is a lot of uncertainty, confusion and conflicting information around at the moment, it is even more important to plan some social events in the future to be able to look forward to something and take a break from work.
A lot of managers have been in Emergency/Crisis mode over the past two months and now need and want time to become more strategic. It’s important to take time out to reflect on what has happened, to reassess not just work priorities, but also to re-evaluate your personal priorities. Then commit to making one change to your behaviour or habit in order to progress some of your personal goals to create a more balanced life and to find more enjoyment.
One of my clients has found Dr Rangan Chatterjee’s book ‘The 4 Pillar Plan’ very helpful to increase her energy and create a healthier lockdown experience.
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