It’s National Work-Life Week 11th to 15th October. What does it mean to you in the new normal?
Sometimes, in a crisis, we learn much more about who we actually are, at our best, and worst. During the last 18 months or so, we’ve been forced out of some of our routines and into new ones. We’ve had some (hopefully) unique opportunities to find out more about who we are, and how we function. It’s been a time when many of us have reflected more on what really matters to us, and to those around us.
Now we have a new phase: many of us are developing a hybrid working style, blending the benefits of remote and onsite working, encouraged by our employers to find what supports both productivity and wellbeing. Many are returning to offices and workplaces as our main location, with fresh scope to collaborate in person.
Some, such as essential workers will be adapting to having more colleagues back on site. Others will have arranged to work more or less fully remotely, and may be figuring out more fully now what that needs in terms of workstations, now that it is an ongoing set-up.
National Work-Life Week now offers an opportunity to take stock of our learnings about how we work best. It’s a chance to ask ourselves: what is my own best version of work-life blend?
Do you blend or do you separate?
Are you an Integrator or Separator? Even before the hybrid working world, psychologists helpfully pointed out that some people prefer to draw a line under work at the end of a day and walk away, while others run their 'work' life and 'home' life in parallel all day: which are you?
Are you happiest when you can weave in personal calls during the day and get a load of washing done between meetings while also being fine to pick up work in the evenings or respond to an email while cooking dinner? If this sounds like an energising smoothie of a day to you, then you’re an Integrator. If it sounds a bit like your life, but you really wish it weren’t, then you’re probably a Separator: you’d rather work in a focused way in work time, and then close the door.
These days, it’s a virtual door and can be harder to close. It’s important, though, to find ways of doing that if you’re a Separator. You may not be able to control everything but if you thrive best as a separator, then at least have some sense of being able to walk away from your desk when you're not working and give yourself a defined start and end to the working day. You’ll need to avoid a knee-jerk assumption that you ‘must’ respond now just because your integrator colleague likes to email non-urgent messages at 10pm.
If you function best as an Integrator, this is also a good time to ask yourself whether it’s clear enough to your team know when they can expect to contact you. You may also need to have a way of figuring out what ‘enough’ looks like in terms of deliverables for a day, as it can be too easy to just go on and on. It’s worth stopping, during the day, to check on your priorities, which can get clouded when everything happens at once.
Managing our own energy
Some of us now have a lot of choice over how we run our working days. Some of us have fairly firm expectations set for us on how, when and where we’ll work. Either approach can feel manageable, or not, at different times. Whatever our circumstances, we always have the choice over how we respond internally. We can allow ourselves to feel out of control, we can give way to resenting our situation or we can find a find of processing our feelings and controlling the bits we can control. We can own the moments in between meetings for example, whether virtual or onsite. We can choose to breathe, to remind ourselves briefly about the things that are going well.
It also helps to figure out whether we are Introverts or Extraverts (or a combination). Extraverts draw their energy from meeting with others and tend to find that conversations help their thinking. Introverts draw energy from alone time and like to think solo before putting forward an idea.
Introverts may find their own, remote space more energising than a noisy open-plan office. Extraverts seek social time to boost energy and – even during lockdown – found savvy ways to recreate those watercooler moments with a virtual tea or coffee break and lifted others' morale at the same time. Equally, it also has to be OK for introverts to say 'no thanks' to some of the well-intentioned reach-outs, in order to enjoy their own company and get things done. It's about a balance and about understanding we are all wired differently.
Jennifer Liston-Smith is Head of Thought Leadership for Bright Horizons
For over 20 years, Jennifer has been relentless in pursuit of innovation, identifying, defining and sharing best practice and 'next practice' for leading global employers in flexible working, family-friendly and wellbeing programmes, closing the gender pay gap and promoting gender-inclusive parenting. She is a sought-after speaker, writer, conference moderator and consultant on these topics and more.