Has the pandemic led us to true work-life balance enlightenment?

Most of us have two sides to our lives – our work life and our personal one. When our lives are balanced, each side benefits from the strength of the other, but when one is out of whack, they both suffer.  

The phrase ‘work-life-balance’ first popped into our vernacular sometime in the eighties. Originally, the concept encouraged employers to offer flexible conditions to allow women to pursue a career – without dropping the ball at home. More of a ‘work-work’ scenario for women if you really think about it, eh? 

Come the early 2000s and workplaces began to eagerly embrace the work-life balance concept once again – except this time the dads could join in. In fact, thanks to the internet and mobile phones, all workers could contact their employers, colleagues, and clients from anywhere, at any time.    

The challenge of turning Britney’s latest chart topper into your ringtone was replaced by the need to know how to put your emails on your phone  or was that just me? You might have even had a second phone or Blackberry to better respect the boundaries of ‘work’ and ‘life’. 

Back then, the ‘work-life’ phrase was used with such sincerity it was hard to see what was actually happening to us. The invisible line that signalled the end of the day was slowly vanishing, work was creeping into our homes and hushed whispers of ‘goodnight’ were replaced by the cold blue glow of a phone under the bed covers for that last ‘email check’. 

As a former journalist and life member of the IMPACT corporate team, I’ve written hundreds of HR-related articles on employee drivers, performance and workplace culture. It’s a topic that the IMPACT team can easily relate to because the owner of IMPACT, Nicole Webb, genuinely believes that we define our work and work life  it does not define us.    

When I joined IMPACT back in 2008, I was stunned to learn that there was an onsite creche with a nanny available for all staff to utilise. This was way beyond the ‘work-life’ lip service I knew  this was life happening IN our office. 

Having the freedom and flexibility to study, travel and explore the world around us enriches our experiences, makes us wiser, more empathetic and ultimately better communicators. 

Thanks to COVID-19, we’re entering a new phase of our working lives where the ‘office’ can be anywhere you’d like  provided you have a good internet connection. As ‘digital nomads’ we’re standing at the gateway of a whole new world of ‘work/life’ opportunity.  

For IMPACT, this has allowed us to welcome our new Senior Account Manager Casey Hodges, who will initially be working from her hometown of Adelaide. Team members have had the opportunity to try life in new locations and we’ve accepted interns from around Australia and abroad – thanks to our new, online work environment.   

So, has the pandemic led us to true work-life balance enlightenment? Of course not. Real work-life balance comes from recognising when change is needed and understanding that each employee’s personal challenges and goals are different. When the pandemic is over, the world will change again, and so too will IMPACT. 

Here are five tips IMPACT has learned over the years to ensure we get the best from our working and personal lives. 

  1. Set boundaries: No matter where you are working from or what time zone you are in, the pressure to be ‘always on’ leads directly to classic ‘burnout’. Agree on core standards for when you and your team are available and consult with your clients and stakeholders regarding the same. 
  2. Choose your communication tools and stick with them: Was it a text buzz, Whatsapp chime or email whoosh you just heard? We’re spoilt for choice when it comes to communicating these days, but you can have too much of a good thing. Increase productivity and decrease stress with team members by agreeing on which communication platforms will be used, and for what purpose. 
  3. Make time for watercooler chat: Remember all those problems you and your colleagues solved while waiting for the kettle to boil? Or perhaps it was uncovering a co-workers hidden talent or passion from dissecting the latest reality TV program? These moments are key to building rapport between teammates and often translate into new work opportunities or solutions because we know each other better. Make time every day to put the ‘shop talk’ aside and just be people. 
  4. Recognise screen fatigue: Its tough going staring at a screen all day. From tired eyes to brain fog it can be hard to keep engagement levels up when all interactions are through a monitor. Limit your video call load where you can. 
  5. Make time to see people ‘for real’: Zoom and Skype are a marvel, but so too is hearing laughter in real life or making genuine eye contact. Make time to connect and see your colleagues and clients in the real world. If a formal meeting does not suit  try catching up for a walk or picnic at the park.   
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