The pandemic has transformed where and how work happens, making employee choice and flexibility more important than ever. The pre-pandemic idea of “work-life balance” was starting to crumble before the pandemic, as technology brought the workplace into people’s living rooms, kitchens, and pockets.
Work-life balance was based on the assumption that work should be done in an office and life should happen elsewhere. The “steps to success” in balancing work and life balance were: (1) careful compartmentalization of tasks and (2) efficient time management.
In today’s hybrid work world, untangling work from life isn’t just “challenging,” it’s nearly impossible when work and life happen in the same space, from the same laptop. The walls and boundaries, even the compartments and time blocks, have come tumbling down.
We Can’t Untangle Work and Life
Let me share a personal example of how fluid and impossible to compartmentalize work and life have become. I interview subject matter experts (SMEs) regularly to help inform the content I create. In early 2021, I interviewed a brilliant software engineer on Zoom who spoke to me from her home in Tel Aviv, Israel.
The focus of our discussion was how IT teams could better support employees working remotely. She began by apologizing for the dog barking in the background. In the middle of the call, I had to apologize and answer a knock at my front door because a delivery driver had arrived. Towards the end of our call, the engineer’s 6-year old daughter came in and sat on her mother’s lap. We chatted and laughed.
Sometimes work and life happen at once. At a time when the boundaries are blurring, we simply have to be flexible and holistic in how we integrate life and work. If we perceive work and life as an “either/or” proposition, we’re going to struggle, because it’s often “both/and.”
New Challenges Around Mental Health
One of the advantages of the “old-school, 9-to-5” work model was that you could leave work behind at the office and (maybe) keep your home life separate. Today, nobody can keep their life separate from work.
Pets, kids, spouses/partners, delivery people, and trucks backing up loudly across the street are now the everyday soundscape of hybrid work meetings.
The messiness of work and life “entanglement” during the pandemic has created challenges for many. Lack of clear separation can lead to burnout and can negatively affect one’s mental health. Few things have seemed more “normal” over the last few years than fear and anxiety. Staying in the moment, whether at work or in life, has never been harder. Finding a new balance is key to regaining control.
Acknowledging the “Tangled Mess”
We are all learning and adapting together, but it helps when we support each other in doing so. Beyond the support technological tools like Robin can provide, there needs to be but a deeper, more holistic level of support.
Change is hard for all of us. We’re not robots: we feel and we dream, we learn and we struggle. We are people outside of our jobs
The challenge ahead is to learn how to integrate work and life, how to untangle and transform the messiness into something that can be sustainable and create real meaning.
Work-life balance sounds like the wrong phrase for what’s happening today, and even “work-life integration” sounds problematic. Things feel more fluid.
How we integrate work and life is the larger question that requires new solutions for individuals and organizations alike. We don’t have a roadmap from here to there yet. There’s no playbook either.
We’re building something new every day and figuring out what to call it as we go. Embracing the messiness seems essential for finding our way as the future of work (and life) unfolds. Change is hard but, if managed with intention, can offer us the opportunity to make work and life better.