Moving towards work-life integration and higher employee-wellbeing
The shift to a remote setup during the pandemic has changed the way we work for good. After the pandemic there is no turning back to the “old normal”. Most companies are moving to hybrid, remote-first or remote-friendly setups. We are figuring out what that means for our organisations, and what this new world of work is going to look like.
This has consequences for work-life balance. If work is no longer demarcated by time and place, work will be no longer dictating our daily routines to the extent it used to. In this new world, works needs to find its place between our other responsibilities and needs.
As we can work from anywhere, we can combine our work schedule with different activities and create new daily routines.
This leads to new ways of working and changes the place work has in our lives.
In the new world, we need to shift from finding work-life balance to creating healthy work-life integration.
And as HR and Business Leaders we are now facing the challenge to support our employees in this shift. We can create new, better employee experiences and set our workforce up to be happy, healthy, and successful.
In this article, we dive a bit deeper in this shift and also what strategies and solutions we recommend.
Offering a great employee experience
The 8-hour in office workday, often combined with a 2-3 hours daily commute, for 5 days a week, does not leave employees with a lot of time to take care of themselves, spend quality time with their family, sleep enough, exercise enough, or to eat healthy and to relax.
We might have been content with the work-life balance, but in the end, work would dictate most of our daily routine and habits, and thus the overall employee-wellbeing and productivity. And not our other needs, such as health, family, or volunteering.
In a world where people have more flexibility, they can (potentially) change their priorities and create new routines to allow them to have time to for more self-care, family, health, relaxation and other interests – next to their work.
While working from home you can skip your commute and save 20 hours quality time a week. This means it is easier to sleep enough, or to go for that early run, or take time to cook a nutritious breakfast to start off the day.
And that is not even take into account how we can leverage our schedule to create space for other activities and manage our energy.
Imagine how work-life integration in a new world of work could look:
- You now finally can go to that farmers’ market on a Wednesday morning – something you always wanted but never could because you needed to be in the office.
- You can take your children for a swim at the lake on a hot day after school, and who knew the neighbours are so much fun?
- You can schedule your working hours in the time that works best for you. Maybe in the early hours for your focused work. And maybe take some time to answer emails and plan your next day after the kids go to bed.
- And instead of staring at your screen unproductively for hours, you can just go for a run and come home with the solution you were looking for.
As leaders, would we not want to offer an employee-experience that allows our workforce to thrive?
Current Employee Experience: burn-out, loneliness and Zoom fatigue.
However, the above is far from the current reality of many employees.
Yes, employees have been able to leverage at least some of the benefits and a lot of employees do not want to go back to the office, afraid to lose their newly found flexibility.
However, we hear about growing number of people suffering from burn-outs, mental health problems, zoom fatigue, all leading to reduced productivity and well-being.
Many people work more hours, not less, than before the pandemic. Some people are longing to go back to the office because they miss the sense of work-life balance their old routine gave them.
The new problems are caused by the fact that now, the distinction between work and free time has become more blurry.
It has become easier to keep on working, and harder to stop.
Jenny Odell writes in How To Do Nothing:
‘The removal of economic security for working people dissolves those boundaries—eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what we will—so that we are left with twenty-four potentially monetizable hours that are sometimes not even restricted to our time zones or our sleep cycles’
This now also is applicable for employees:
We now have removed the commute and the office that dissolved the boundaries of the old world and we end up with twenty-four potentially workable hours.
And this might be happening:
- We might get an idea while we take a shower and we find ourselves working in our bathrobes for the biggest part of the day.
- We feel pressured to use the extra 20 hours a week saved in the commute for work.
- Our team mates prefer to talk on zoom on a time that was scheduled for groceries and cooking so we keep on working and order Chinese food that we eat during the meeting.
And these are just some examples that, on the long run, affect our mental and physical health and well-being. And also, our problem-solving skills, our mood, our engagement and our innovative skills.
Realising this gives us the key to a better work-life integration: it is important to set new boundaries – ideally in a way that better meets our needs.
We need to find solutions that address the short-term, mid-term, but also the long-term future.
A future where we – hopefully – have lifestyles where work folds around our other needs, instead of dictating our lives. And where we have built organisations where people thrive and get to do work that leaves them engaged, happy and fulfilled.
As Future of Work leaders, we need to create the context that support our employees in doing so. A culture of trust, high autonomy in working schedules and encouraging our employees to manage their own energy.
So, how do we do that?
Your next step to create better work-life integration and increase employee-wellbeing
Recently, Linkedin gave their employees a paid week additional leave off to prevent burn-out. We applaud the awareness of this growing problem, however we encourage companies to find solutions and strategies that support a healthy transition in the long run and not just provide band-aid solutions.
Here are some insights of the areas where you might want to start with interventions or implement new workplace designs. They are not just short-term solutions but they are also your first steps towards better work-life integration and increase employee-wellbeing for the long-term.
We see that many companies are still in the “time and presence” mindset. Even when people are not in the office, they are to be expected to do their work during the regular office hours and attend virtual meetings.
(And we still can’t go to that farmers market to buy the organic veggies 🙁)
For the long run, we foresee a future where more and more work will be done a-synchronously. However, this is a transformation that takes time. A solution that is already successfully adopted in companies and is often used by teams spread over different time-zones might be easier to implement:
Limit this virtual presence to a daily time-slot (for example, maximum 2 or 4 hours a day) where everybody commits to be available for meetings and other synchronous work.
Make it clear that the remaining work can be done on the time that work best for the individual employee.
Keep in mind that meetings, in general, should probably happen less and not more, so this might be a good moment to review the necessity or interval of meetings.
Some companies choose to put in place a no-meeting Wednesday, however, we would not recommend that as the only or the primary option.
It is important that people can create new routines and learn to manage their energy, and are getting used to different ways of collaboration to have the long-term benefits. “Forbidding” meetings just one day a week might lead to this meetings will take place on another day. This way there won’t be a structural structural change. So this should always be part of a larger strategy.
Pro-Tip: not everything needs to be a synchronous meeting. With creating an online presentation, using a tool like loom, you can send out what you want to send out and the other person can listen and react when it is a good time for them.
Encouraging your employees to create a routine that supports them in both their work-life integration, well-being, productivity takes time for the results to show.
We are programmed to be little productivity machines and the time-presence paradigm is a though one to break (as you might find out when you start advising a 4-hour time slot for meetings.
Autonomy and trust are key here and we need to find a way to create both in teams, especially when people might change to new working routines. Creating a cultural change where we can gradually let go of the virtual time-and-presence mindset is a part of the roadmap.
Pro-Tip: introduce a How To Work With Me. This way, teams and colleagues get a better understanding of your working hours and how to reach you urgently when something urgent comes up while you are at the farmers market.
And if you are looking for a tool to increase trust and engagement, check out the tool our friends at Lets Dive have created to help you do so.
As I personally learned the hard way, leveraging the benefits of this new way of combining working and living is not easy. We need to develop new skills in the area of personal leadership. It takes a lot of self-awareness and personal leadership to be able to do this successfully.
This is probably not part of your current L&D program – but it should. If you can support your employees with these skills, you will be setting up your company for success.
And optimising work-life integration also require new skills from our (team) leaders. They need to understand what both their individual employee needs to do their best work and facilitate that, and to meet the overall needs of the team.
They need to be able to identify what routine is best for them, when are they most creative, how to break habits or develop new ones. Creating awareness of focused time, and their most productive hours, or when it is important for them to move their body, or rest, is important.
For both employees and team leads this is a process that can take years. To offer support, we recommend having a “work-life coach” – someone who helps your employees to thrive in their new found flexibility and leverage the benefits and helps them when they get stuck or experience mental problems.
There are a lot of great tools out there that will help you to create a better work-life integration and a better employee-wellbeing out there. In our network we host quarterly demo days where we dive deeper in these solutions.
Also, we cannot say often enough: we do not have to choose between the company office or our homes. Our friends at Upflex have a platform that is an easy way to support your employees to find a quiet, safe and comfortable office space to either have focused time, or to meet up with colleagues in person.
Join the conversation – Join the Hello Monday Club
Within the Hello Monday Club network, we bring Senior HR and Business Leaders together who are shaping the future of work. Together, we work on finding new solutions for the new challenges we face, creating sustainable and human centric organisations. We have regular round-table sessions where we discuss challenges and the best solutions to move forward. Please contact us if you want to join the conversation and learn from your peers how they are solving new challenges we face.