A little over a year ago, I wrote a blog post about work-life balance at Firewood. In the process of interviewing my coworkers for the piece, I had a revelation. I realized that while it’s important for your workplace to be supportive—and Firewood is—ultimately work-life balance is on you. People who felt they had it, worked at it. They set reminders, blocked their calendars, and communicated with their managers in an open and honest way. Work-life balance required work.
I took what I learned to heart and started giving myself more permission to set boundaries around my time. And you know what? I felt more balanced in life without being any less productive at my job. But then came COVID-19 and the world was turned upside down. Work-life balance took on a whole new meaning.
Work-life trends in the age of COVID
Now, with most of us still working from home 24/7, I wondered if work-life balance was even possible in the time of COVID. What’s changed? What’s stayed the same? So I talked with many of my coworkers, people in various life situations, to find out. Here’s what I learned.
- There is great contrast in how people are managing. They are doing better or worse based on whether they live alone, live with someone, or have caretaker responsibilities. There are, of course, many other nuances to people’s situations, but these are the broad strokes. People who live alone seem to be missing the social aspect of work the most and find themselves working longer hours to fill in their free time. While people who have caretaker responsibilities have no free time.
- People are grateful, but feeling the pressure. They’re grateful to have a job, to work from home, and to work for a company that’s been supportive and compassionate. But there’s also pressure from the outside world, pressure from our families, and pressure to go above and beyond at work. Pressure is all around us these days and there’s not much any company, no matter how well intentioned, can do about it. We know we are the lucky few.
- It’s difficult to establish boundaries. We’ve all heard this mantra in the past few months: “I don’t work from home. I live at work.” The line between work and home has blurred and many are finding it difficult to smoothly move between—or even differentiate—the two.
- And it’s difficult to switch off. Losing track of time, checking email before bed, sitting at your desk whether working midday or watching movies in the off-hours—being in the same environment means it’s difficult to distinguish between work and leisure time.
- Isolation is real. The one bad thing about working for a company that promotes a sense of camaraderie, teamwork, and authenticity—a place where you can completely be yourself—is that you miss it. You miss the people. You miss the in-person meetings. Yes, you even miss the “downtime” of a commute.
Coping tips from the front lines
Working (and living) in a COVID world is not easy. But there are a myriad of coping mechanisms people have developed to keep going and stay positive. Here are a few tips culled from our adaptable crew.
- Work in shorter, more focused bursts. Long stints of being on task can be draining. Shorter periods of focus will help keep you refreshed and engaged.
- Avoid large-group, protracted conversations. Virtual meetings with many people can suck valuable time.
- Calendar short breaks. Take a walk or connect with family members. It can do wonders. Remember the days when we’d take a break from work with a walk to the corner coffee shop?
- Prioritize quick check-ins with family members or roommates. Several times a day, if only for 60 seconds, take time to connect with someone outside of work. It can help clear your head.
- Treat work as a guest in your home. Mindfully invite coworkers and clients into your home during work hours. But at the end of the day, remember that the guests are gone and it’s residents only.
- Take moments for gratitude. Jotting notes in a gratitude journal and reviewing them at the end of the day (or, better still, at the start of the next day), thanking colleagues, loving on pets, or hugging family members can help keep negativity at bay.
Our gratitude list
At Firewood, we’re incredibly lucky. We get to work from home. We work at a company that’s in demand. We feel supported by our managers, our coworkers, and Firewood as a whole. We’ve always been proud of our inclusive, familial culture where people enjoy each other’s company, socialize outside of work hours, and bring a common sensibility to their client work. These days, we have happy hour Zooms, guided meditation, and various clubs for our different interests. Ultimately, we all care about each other. And while this current environment is tough on all of us, feeling like you’re a part of something bigger helps.
This too shall pass
Is work-life balance possible in the time of COVID? The answer is—it’s complicated. These days, the task of finding it is on the individual more than ever, but it’s also more challenging than ever. The artificial boundaries between work and life (commuting, being in a different location, hobbies, social lives outside of the home, even dinner in a restaurant) are pretty much nonexistent. For now.
In this new COVID reality, our work and personal lives are completely intertwined, and it’s on us to find ways of splitting them apart. For some people it’s possible. For others, work-life balance is a distant echo from a mystical land called 2019. The good news is we’ve proven to be resilient and adaptable. We will get through this. And chances are we’ll come out the other end stronger and ready to tackle whatever lies ahead.