Work-Life Balance After COVID-19: Appreciating the Office
As COVID-19 restrictions have begun to ease and life across Australia starts to slowly return to normal, workers have commenced the slow migration back into their workspaces. New rules and considerations, such as staggered work times, spaced out desks and split teams have emerged as concessions for post-COVID work-life. But while considerations are being made to keep the “work” in our work-life balance consistent, the ramifications for how this can then affect the personal or “life” side of our work-life balances hasn’t been as readily discussed.
With the shift to working from home, the lines between work and personal hours have begun to blur with many workers reporting not only an increase in the number of hours they now work, but also an increase in the expectation to increase their availability and work hours.
While most would expect productivity to have taken a dive during the work from home shift, in fact, the opposite has been proven true with a 2019 study conducted by Airtasker reporting that “telecommuters worked 1.4 days more per month, or 16.8 more days every year than people who worked in an office.” But while that figure may at first seem impressive, it has come with the revelation that 54% of remote workers and 49% of office workers said they felt "overly stressed during the workday," 45% of remote workers and 42% of office workers "experienced high levels of anxiety during the workday," and 37% of remote workers and 35% of office workers said they "procrastinated on a task until its deadline."
So, while the surface level data might show that working from home has increased work hours and productivity, in fact, the deeper truth has become that workers personal satisfaction and their work-life balances have begun to suffer as a result from working from home. The top three challenges of remote work identified were staying motivated, stressing about the current economic and health crisis and an inability to switch off and disconnect. This last concern, in particular, should be a focus for the Australian workforce, as it could contribute to nation-wide worker fatigue.
For Stewart Friedman, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, the answer lies in considering your work-life relationship as an integration rather than as an act of balance between the two.
Professor Friedman’s solution proposes thinking about your work and personal lives as two parts of a whole that complement each other, rather than as two separate realities that constantly compete for your time. This type of integration is not about trade-offs - but synergies, gaining more by combining aspects of life often deliberately quarantined from each other. However, for this theory to work a definition of both work and personal life needs to be established - so that you can actively observe or note down the different ways in which you think or handle situations as your “work” or “personal” self.
A good way to clearly define the two roles of your life, but not completely separate is to establish a separate physical area for working away from your personal space. The modern office space - even with all the concessions made for COVID- will remain an important and integral part in both our personal and work lives; as well as a way to establish an understanding between them.
Psychologists Jeffery Greenhaus and Saroj Parasuraman describe this work-life integration as “when attitudes in one role positively spill over into another role, or when experiences in one role serve as resources that enrich another role in one’s life”.
Understanding your work-life relationship as an integration, rather than a competition was easier to achieve in a pre-COVID world. An example might be participating in a work-sponsored fun run for charity, or competing against colleagues in a work-organized blood drive. These types of activities that rely heavily on collaboration are a chance to deepen your bonds with colleagues and do something good for the community.
Now with the physical distance needed between yourself, your colleagues and your workspaces; finding ways to implement this healthy type of integration and collaboration could be seen as harder to achieve than ever. But as socially distancing looks to be a permanent part of our thinking moving forward, and as new techniques or dynamics of working become unavoidable - now could also be the time to take advantage of this new work culture with increased flexibility and ways of connecting.
All these new technological, adaptive and agile working skills developed by the Australian workforce during our work from home stints will not only be compounded with a newfound appreciation of face-to-face collaboration and communication; but also an appreciation for our office spaces. Having a designated workspace away from your personal life and duties, not only creates a physical barrier, but a mental and social one as well. A distinct way to actively enhance both work and personal dynamics.
Of course, we need to recognise that COVID-19 has dramatically changed personal and work behaviours, and we need to let go the mental model of thinking of work-time and home-time being as distinct and separate blocks that compete against each other; and instead as complementing factors to each other. With the new flexibility around work times, personal space and ways of working - a flexible office space solution is the best way to help re-invigorate and redefine both your personal and work-life satisfaction.
If you're interested in a flexible workspace solution for yourself or your business, contact our team today to discover your perfect work-life balance.