This really isn’t the time to hear that there is no such thing as work/life balance, right? COVID-19 has all of us at home, packing all of life’s activities into what precious square footage that our homes may provide. Yet, even before we were facing a global pandemic, I had heard someone at work say that it’s impossible to separate work from personal life. You can’t avoid bringing a sour mood to the office when you fight with your partner. You can’t help take out the stress of a deadline on your family. Now that we’re all in the same situation, I thought it would be a good idea to explore how we’re managing work/life balance (or it’s nonexistence) at SemanticBits. Because, right now, it’s harder than ever.
We have been a remote-first workforce for years and are fortunate to get our day jobs done from anywhere. But now we have to do it surrounded by our families or roommates and under new day-to-day pressures. Aside from trying to get work done with extra people around, we are concerned about our health and making DIY face masks. We are trying to find a grocery delivery window and crossing our fingers that toilet paper is in stock this week. We are looking for a free pass on all the screen time our kids are getting, so we don’t look back and feel guilty when this is all over. We are trying to do it all and with no space to take a break. It’s confining. It’s stressful.
Here is why work/life balance doesn’t exist: you can’t be the employee, the parent, the cook, or any of the other roles we are taking on all at the same time. Even the people who are used to working at home full time are disrupted right now.
Since we are left with no clear separation of work and life, let alone with balance, I am going to share some ways that we’re surviving and thriving here at SemanticBits in the hope that it’ll help someone adjust to this change.
Raise your hand if you are trying to work, teach, and parent all at the same time. Raise your hand if you live alone and don’t have someone physically with you to sit down and share a meal together. While we are all trying to manage in this unprecedented time, we each are experiencing something different, which influences how we show up to work each day. So, talk about it. I don’t think you need to divulge personal details, but this is a perfect opportunity to open up to your team about what is going on, and maybe seek a little space or support.
Letting others know your circumstance will help them understand why you might be a little more stressed at work or why you missed your morning meeting. Seriously, just tell someone what’s up. Unless they have the heart of the Grinch (when it was three sizes too small), you will find that people are more understanding now than ever. You might even be surprised to find that it brings you closer as a team because you are going through similar challenges. It isn’t easy to be vulnerable—especially through a computer screen—with people you might never have met in person, but give them a chance and it could help you and them.
Create an outlet
If you can manage to get through a conversation without talking about something related to COVID-19 these days, I don’t know how you do it. It’s part of everyone’s life, but if it’s derailing meaningful conversations or clogging up your communication channels. So, create a dedicated space to talk. Online tools, such as Slack, let you set up a channel where you can share COVID-19-related news or where people can vent or share woes on how little toilet paper they have left. We use Slack at SemanticBits and have such a channel. We also created a “Good News” channel to share uplifting moments because, fortunately, there have been some positive moments amidst all of anxiety and fear.
If you have video capability to talk to people, TURN IT ON. It’s the closest thing we have to interacting with our colleagues, or anybody else for that matter, aside from six feet of separation, if you still have to physically report to work. The benefit of body language and facial expressions to complement tone of voice can do wonders for your mood. I’m not a doctor or psychologist, but I can tell you from personal experience that when I see my team, I can read the vibe so much better than if we’re just on a call or messaging in a group chat.
Schedule fun? Does that mean block off time on the calendar or send a meeting invite for something that isn’t work related? YES! When you are behind your desk in an office of one, it’s so easy to just get right to work and not want to “bother” someone by asking what they did over the weekend. Here are some things I’ve seen around our company lately:
- Happy hour. If you’re a supervisor and you feel disconnected from your team, start here. Rule #1: no work talk. Encourage everyone to bring a drink (but remember that alcohol isn’t consumed across the board. So, water is just as good as wine). Even if it’s just 30 minutes, you can set the tone that it’s okay to have fun or vent about how weird we all feel right now.
- Friendly contests. We have been thinking of ways to entertain each other through contests. The goal is to make it accessible for almost everyone to participate and use items we already have at home, so we don’t have to go out in public or spend money. Some ideas include cooking or baking, creating thank you signs for service people, or recording a short video of your secret talent.
- Group exercise. While going outside to exercise is still permitted in some areas, gyms are closed and not everyone has at-home equipment. A member of our SemanticFit group set up a daily 10-minute meetup via Zoom. It’s easy to get stuck at our desk all day. What better motivation than a group of coworkers doing push ups and sit ups together?
Ask for help
This is a really difficult time for some people. There are uncertainties of staying healthy, job stability, and whether this is our new normal for the foreseeable future. In any case, there are probably resources available through your company that can help.
If you are having a hard time focusing on work, ask someone on your team for some extra support until you can get back on track. Check in with your HR team about benefits such as a life assistance program or telehealth services that connect you with licensed professionals who can help with mental health, finance, grief, or other personal needs. If you haven’t heard from top leaders in your company, ask them to address some of your concerns to the whole company, because you probably aren’t the only one with questions.
In the quest to achieve work/life balance, let’s acknowledge that it doesn’t exist right now. Instead of letting that stress you out, let’s assume the glass is half full here. Because we are all working towards the same goal—getting back to our normal life. Embrace the challenge and see what we can learn from it.