There are three sweet words that everyone wishes to hear, have, and hold. Nope, it isn’t “I love you” (though some might argue with that), or “Your money’s here!” (again, this could be contested – money is money, after all).
The three words are “work-life balance”. And while those who are still not part of the workforce might not care for this concept yet, anyone who is currently employed, running a business, or generally working the 9-5 grind desires to achieve this at some point in their laborious lives.
This unseen concept has become the Holy Grail for workplaces and workers alike. It promises the kind of utopia that is stress-free, fulfilling, and at the same time, lucrative. It is applicable to those who are working in offices every day, as well as to those who are working from home. But because of the current global situation, we are going to focus on the latter and discuss WFH (work-from-home) work-life balance in this post.
Defining Your Own Work-Life Balance
The Wikipedia definition of work-life balance is a state of equilibrium where the “demands of personal life, professional life, and family life are equal”. Though the concept has been around long enough to be a catch-phrase, there is not a single blanket definition of it that will encompass each and every worker’s experience, expectations, and circumstances.
Even the concept of work itself – along with the demands, availability, skills, and other factors surrounding it – can and will change over time. This is especially true during times of upheaval such as pandemics, economic crises, and other similar situations. Lines and boundaries blur because of sheltering-in-place, with the added ingredients of home-schooling and working from home thrown in for good measure.
So now that we are in the middle of a global health (and economic) crisis called COVID-19, the notion of work-life balance is being altered for many, as well. More and more traditional workplaces are trying out or considering remote work for their staff on a temporary or permanent basis. Additionally, those who are used to multi-tasking are now faced with a new kind of concept, which adds household chores and parental duties (if it applies) to the entire scheme.
Setting up at home according to your circumstances
For instance, if you are a parent who is also working from home, you will not only have to arrange to do teleconferences in a dedicated quiet space but also make sure that your kids are looked after and doing their own virtual classes in peace. This means coming up with a schedule that will accommodate household chores, child-minding/rearing, virtual school setups, and ensuring that you are undisturbed when working (all while the house remains clean, organized, and running smoothly).
Given this potential setup, you might think that the hours for work could extend well beyond the typical eight to nine one spent in an office. It could – but it wouldn’t be a good idea in the long run, and it is certainly not a sound habit to develop. You will get burnt out, if not sooner, then later. You will likely start resenting work, or certain members of your family, or the entire situation in general. That does not present work-life balance by a long shot.
Recognizing your stress triggers early on
How do you accommodate all these tasks and not overexert yourself, then? Aside from strictly sticking to an established routine and schedule so things won’t overlap or spillover, you can determine the following first:
What makes you stressed?
What affects your productivity the most?
Which situations find you easily irritated, annoyed, and fatigued?
Which setup works best for you, your partner or spouse, and the rest of your household?
Knowing and learning these things about yourself is key to well-being, peace of mind, managing expectations, and valuing quality time with yourself and loved ones. At the same time, you will also have the energy and commitment for work because you recognize which situations to deflect and which ones to confront head-on.
Changing Your Expectations With the Times
Some time ago (and even up to now), the words “I’m busy” were meant to drive home several points to those within earshot or reading distance of them. One of those points is that the person who is busy is doing important things, and another is that they are not to be disturbed. Another result could have a dismissive affectation – whether or not the person who says or writes it is actually busy doesn’t matter. As far as they are concerned, the conversation is over even before it has started.
Why have people become so obsessed with busy-ness? When has being busy become the gauge for productivity? People like to tout this term along with multi-tasking and the ability to juggle tasks, but does it really lead to better output in the long run? And when has being busy become part and parcel of work-life balance?
Recognizing what works for you (not what others expect of you)
Maybe during your grandparents’ (or parents’, if you are a Gen X-er) time, being busy was a sign of success. Their lifestyles, after all, differ greatly from those of the succeeding generations. Their lives usually revolved around work, with only holidays and weekends reserved for family and friends. Today, the emphasis on work-life balance – or at least a semblance of it – is never more apparent than with the current office setups involving squashy bean bag chairs, core balls, gaming tables, free-flowing coffees, lounges, and other perks of being part of a millennial workforce.
This is not to say that material and superficial things encompass the equilibrium between work and personal lives. In fact, a lot of the same work values that the previous generations hold dear are still applicable today: stability, growth, fulfillment, financial sustainability, and career trajectory. Given the current situation, sticking to your own defined values while adhering to company rules and regulations is key. At the same time, it’s good to also recognize the tools that could help make your work easier and invest in them.
Adjusting to and accommodating the changes
There could understandably be times when you will feel solitaire and lonely from lack of physical and social interaction with other people. However, this could be remedied in various creative ways such as weekly reports that are fun and casual, or virtual group activities like workouts or games among your workmates or friends.
Additionally, it’s important to start observing and trying to understand how current events affect work on a bigger picture instead of just acting on easily apparent details. In the case of having to work from home because of health and safety reasons, you will need to keep an open line of communication with your workmates and superiors to be in the loop about potential workplace changes. At the same time, you have to relay these decisions to family members or people you are living with (if any) to accommodate the changes that could come with them. That way, you can set your professional and personal goals while still being open to potential changes the situation might bring.
Learning How to Negotiate Given Your Circumstances
Given all those factors, how do you set up a system to make sure things fall into place while working from home for an indefinite period? One of the most important tools that can help you is communication. Not only does this ensure that everyone knows how you are doing, but you will also be on the same page as everyone else you are working with.
Many companies understand what it is like to have their entire staff suddenly move their work in their respective homes. While this is a practical gesture given the implications of social and physical distancing, it is nevertheless a huge adjustment to make for first-time remote workers. Aside from the physical and psychological changes, issues like paying for Internet connection and other tools out of pocket have to be taken into consideration. It isn’t an unfair setup, but it’s best to have a firm agreement about who pays for what, and how salary adjustments, taxation, and other details factor in given all the changes.
Becoming more flexible with the times
Flexibility is perhaps one of the most attractive factors of working from home. It allows remote workers to accomplish what needs to be accomplished, work-wise. At the same time, it gives them the kind of quality time needed for growth, and to build stronger bonds with their loved ones. If your office schedules were rigid pre-COVID, perhaps requesting a more flexible one while in quarantine is in order. Don’t hesitate to talk to your employers and superiors (or to your staff, if you are the boss) on how to go about it so that everyone can benefit from a flexible scheme.
As for getting used to working from home, it’s important to designate your own workspace and a routine that is quiet and free from distractions. Working and having meetings with a busy background is never a good idea. Being flexible also means being disciplined. Learn how to segregate and block off your work time from the rest of your schedule and tasks so you can be more productive, and make sure other people at home respect and follow it, too.
Taking breaks when needed
It’s also necessary to talk about taking breaks or mini-vacations to recharge from work. Sure, being at home might be less stressful because of the absence of commute, traffic, pollution, and other daily stressors. But work is work, and things could go awry given that some job and home life boundaries could get blurred at some point.
Another practical topic to consider would be revisiting paid leaves for particular events involving births, deaths, sickness, and other personal issues. There is always room for adjustment and accommodation when it comes to these things. Rehashing what still applies and what could be compromised given the work-from-home situation is key to finding a balance between your personal and professional life.
Being at home also means being able to eat healthier, home-cooked meals instead of stuff hastily bought from outside. Bear in mind that there would be no balance if your health (physical, mental, and otherwise) and well-being become compromised.
Finding Joy in Small But Fulfilling Tasks
These days of minimal to no socialization, impending recession, and page after page of seemingly endless bad news, you might find yourself in despair and alone even if you physically aren’t. Financially speaking, you will need to keep putting food on the table and paying the bills, rent, or mortgage (if applicable). This could mean that, on top of your current job, you might have to find other sources of income to augment your savings for the unforeseeable future. The pandemic could affect work as you know it, but you should at least look for new sources of income that are fun, easy to do, and won’t encroach on your current work set-up.
Make money (and have fun) with your art
Meaningful work may come in the form of creative hobbies that produce merchandise or services others are willing to pay money for. Thankfully, there are online platforms for this endeavor. Sites like Etsy, Cafe Press, RedBubble, and others like them. They give creative and artistic people the chance to create an additional stream of income from handcrafted items, original designs, illustrations, paintings, and other forms of arts and crafts. Sites like Etsy welcome OOAK (one of a kind) merchandise, while Cafe Press and Red Bubble have a gift store for popular merchandise where members’ designs are featured and offered up for sale.
Do some home makeovers (and make money while you’re at it!)
And while you’re at home, you can take a good long look at some of the upgrades and makeovers you’ve always wanted to do to your house. Is it time to replace your dining set or living room chairs? Do your bookshelves need new volumes or do you need to let go of titles you’ve outgrown or no longer interest you? Fortunately, you can still make money by decluttering and letting go of gently-used and serviceable items at home.
As its name indicates, Decluttr is an app that allows you to cull the stuff at home which others can still use. On this platform, you can sell your mobile phone, DVDs and CDs, books, tech stuff, and more. They promise to pay the most for tech and offer a convenient way to get your items valuated, sell, ship (for free), and get paid.
If you have designer furniture, consider selling them via Chairish, which prides itself on being the “design world’s indispensable marketplace for exceptional home furnishings and art.” Their clients are typically tastemakers and interior designers, so if you’re thinking about downgrading or replacing vintage furniture with more practical stuff, flip them here.
Get paid to do normal stuff you do online every day
Some of the best sources of extra income require little more than some of your time, effort, and doing the things you normally do on a daily basis. Since you will be online for a lot of time while working from home, why not make some money doing online activities?
Fortunately, sites like ZoomBucks encourage you to earn some cash or gift cards by doing easy tasks. You can choose to watch TV, answer and complete surveys, or take on interesting offers. Doing these won’t take up too much of your time so don’t need to worry about not meeting deadlines at your regular job. More importantly, you could have fun while earning some extra cash, too.