Work life balance during coronavirus

Work-Life Balance In the Time of the Coronavirus

A good work-life balance is the lack of opposition between work and other life roles. It is the state of equilibrium in which personal, professional, and family life are all equal. When I’m struggling with my work-life balance, I’m likely letting it control me versus the other way around. In the time of coronavirus, my work-life balance has taken a big shift. The pandemic has pushed me into remote work mode: some days in the home office, other days at the kitchen table, and yet some on the living room couch. To perform the job I did when I was reporting to an actual corporate office every day, along with many of my colleagues, I could be here to stay.

Managing a work-life balance is a constant daily dance. Sometimes I know the steps well – I’m gliding across the ballroom floor, a rose in my mouth, with applause all around. Other days I wake with two left feet and can’t keep the rhythm to save my life. I think to myself that I’d rather just sit this one out. It’s on those days when I feel the “balance” of work and life is off-kilter. My role as a mom, wife, worker, and small business owner blur together, and I don’t know where one starts and the other stops. What I find when the music stops is that I was allowing it to get the best of me, not the other way around.

“Everything came to a screeching halt, and I LOVED it.”

During the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a 68% increase in the number of employees working from home 5 days/week, according to a study by Global Workplace Analytics. In early March, the Seyfarth law firm surveyed 550 U.S. employers to understand their response to the crisis better. They found that 67% were taking steps to allow those employees to work from home who normally do not. There are indicators that many will likely not go back. When the pandemic is over, 30% of the entire workforce in the United States will work from home–at least a couple days a week. This is an astounding number considering that the number was in the low single digits before the pandemic.

The vast majority of people want to work from home. In fact, some studies show up to 80% of employees want to work from home at least some of the time. Depending upon which study you look at, there doesn’t seem to be much difference in generation–whether Gen Z, millennial, Gen X, or Baby Boomer; everybody wants flexibility. According to Gallup’s workforce studies, the ability to work remotely is one of the highest-ranked benefits overall.

Personally, I couldn’t agree more. If you had asked me a year and a half ago when I was on the job hunt what my dream working environment would be, I would have unequivocally said “working from home full time” and then would have promptly added, “and that’ll never happen.” But it did. And home is where I’ve been since March 2020 with my husband, daughter, and dog, who thinks she just won the jackpot.

Why was it such a difficult balancing act prior to COVID 19? The three biggest struggles with working remotely, as reported by buffer.com and their 2019 State of Remote Report, were unplugging after work (22%), loneliness (19%), and collaborating and/or communication (17%). And as noted in an Entrepreneur article from June 2020, 70% of workers are citing COVID-19 as the most stressful moment of their careers–more than 9/11 and even the Great Recession of the late 2000s. The culprit, they claim, is the 24/7 “always-on” culture that has emerged from hyper-communication.

Digital connectivity enables a remote work environment, yet it is so pervasive that we are glued to our phones even when we turn our laptops off.  Businesses can’t help themselves–COVID-19 has disrupted many of us, who are fighting tirelessly to stay afloat. Combine the “always on” with “high stakes,” and now you have the expectations that instant responses and meetings at any hour are okay, the result of which is that people are on the edge of burnout. Recent data shows that remote workers are likely to clock an additional 60 hours a month due to COVID-19.

“I’m working more now than ever because there are few excuses not to.”

My experience working from home during early COVID-19 was positive. It felt like an adventure at first. In between sitting and waiting for the next news break, I spent my time working. Although many projects were on hold at the moment, it was easy breezy: taking morning walks with the family, playing the role of a teacher with my 1st grader, preparing dinners for the family, working on my business in the evenings, and scouring the earth for toilet paper like everyone else. I wiped the schedule of events and commitments clean. There was nowhere to go and nothing to do. Everything came to a screeching halt, and I LOVED it. I was definitely blessing myself.

Now months later, I’m still working from home. Work has really picked up, school is back in full-swing, personal business commitments are piling on, and I feel the new-won equilibrium falter. It’s more challenging to disconnect when there is nowhere to escape. I’m working more now than ever because there are few excuses not to. I’m taking less paid time off because there are no trips to go on.

Can It fix itself or do we need more boundaries?

Remote work is here to stay. As employees, we have proved that we can manage it and still strongly perform. Most times, employee performance has improved. For example, Global Workplace Analytics report enormous increases in employees’ abilities to manage distractions and interruptions and think in creative ways when at home versus the office. Companies seeing huge bottom-line effects have increased employee engagement, decreased carbon footprints, and decreased real estate costs, all stemming from more remote work. According to Gartner, 74% of organizations plan to shift some employees to remote work permanently.

But such a swift uptick in the amount of the remote work that has transpired in 2020 has left many organizations and leaders scrambling to get all engines firing. Even those organizations with the best intentions are struggling to provide all the equipment and resources necessary to support their remote workforce. Yet, despite the need for organizations to do more to close the gaps and enable a successful remote work environment, the number one predictive driver of work from home success, according to Global Workplace Analytics, is self-discipline.

Self-discipline means self-control, or the ability to avoid an unhealthy excess of anything that could lead to negative consequences.  Self-discipline or a lack of it can surely impede the ability toachieve a healthy work-life balance, especially during this pandemic.  A disciplined person is more likely to take control and responsibility for his or her life. Self-discipline will drive what we think is best to protect ourselves and avoid tracking or spreading the coronavirus. Self-discipline will also help us take the reins and create our own reality of remote work, one in which we are less stressed and are calling the shots on how we manage our time.

“I begin to see that pretty much everything I need to do is in my control.”

When I am self-disciplined, I stop blaming my organization or leader for my stress. Instead, I speak up about what I can or can’t manage before it gets out of control. In short, I let my perfectionistic nature relax a little and show up with more humility. I even ask for help to set better boundaries. I have asked for an earlier start time, so I can change gears and get into “mom mode,” allowing me time to help my daughter with homework and piano practice before dinner.  When I feel isolated from my co-workers, I make it a point to reach out and do a virtual drive-by chat. When I make excuses not to do something, I check myself. I remind myself to stop thinking in maximums–that I have to get it all done or I’m not good enough–and, instead, I permit myself to let what I’ve done be enough. And when considering a binge of my favorite TV show or numbing out on Facebook for an hour, I try to think about other things I could be doing that would make me feel good, like taking a quick walk or calling a friend.

When I remind myself that my self-discipline, or lack thereof, is impeding my attempts at a healthy work-life balance, I see that pretty much everything I need to do is in my control. I have no one to blame but myself. And that is a hard pill to swallow. Many of us are deficient in setting good boundaries and establishing healthy and helpful self-care routines. I’ve experienced it, and I see it all the time with my coaching clients. Are all these things easy? No way. I learned them as an adult and must practice them all the time. Listen, the struggle is real, but there’s so much we can do on our own to create a healthy work-life balance–pandemic or not.

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Julie Brendich
Julie is the owner of Harmony & Success Personal Coaching, LLC. She’s a long-time leadership development expert having spent over 20 years working in multiple industries, helping leaders become more effective and successful. She works with clients on the wisdom of the “Midlife Awakening” and how it can be the catalyst for massive, positive life transformation in not just their careers but also in their most precious relationships, self-care, and spirituality. She holds advanced degrees in psychology and is credentialed as a Master Spirit Life Coach and Certified Professional Coach through the International Coaching Federation. A midwestern native from the suburbs of Chicago, Julie approaches the coaching process with her clients in a down-to-earth way where each client can be their true selves. It is her life’s purpose and biggest joy to help midlife women achieve their goals.
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