By Chris Taylor
NEW YORK - Any remote worker can tell you how office demands have invaded the home in 2020 and started creeping into every corner of the day.
But Jessica DeGroot is no ordinary worker. She is an expert in work-life balance as head of the consultancy ThirdPath Institute.
"Work was taking over entirely, and I was becoming less and less efficient," said DeGroot, who is working from her home office in Philadelphia, while her husband has commandeered the kitchen as his own workspace. "I just thought, I gotta do something different here."
Almost six in 10 employees say the pandemic has made their workdays less defined, according to a Pulse of the American Worker survey conducted by Prudential Financial.
Some 60% of remote workers say distractions from family, housemates and pets make it difficult to get work done, according to a study by insurers Chubb. Only a minority, 43%, say they have been successful in keeping work and family separated.
That is just not sustainable, especially as the global pandemic drags on. Add in the demands of childcare or eldercare, online education, and smartphone technology which makes us constantly available, and it is not hard to see why people are stretched to the max.
"We have found that generally people are doing well working from home, but the main area of concern that keeps popping up is work-life balance," said Adam Pressman, a partner in Atlanta with workforce consultants Mercer. "Especially caregivers, and their ability to disconnect from work."
It is not that this work-life puzzle is inherently unsolvable. But it does requires you to rethink your priorities, reorganize how your day is structured, and even be thoughtful about the physical space around you.
It also requires the buy-in of understanding employers, who not only need to have the right policies in place, but also have leaders modeling a healthy work-life balance.
After all, it is in nobody's interest that you are on-call 24-7, forced to mix work and family concerns into one big toxic stew and burn yourself out in the process.
A few tips to handle the juggling act:
TAKE YOUR VACATION
Here is an eye-popping stat from the Prudential survey: In a year when many of us are not even in our offices anymore, 65% of people have actually taken less time off from work than last year.
That likely stems from dread about losing our jobs in this precarious economy, as well as the coronavirus restrictions that make a normal vacation tricky. But turning yourself into a burned-out husk of an employee will harm your long-term prospects, not help them.
"We all need time to recharge, even if it's just evenings and weekends," said DeGroot. "Learn to really turn yourself off from work, and then you will be much fresher on Mondays."
DELEGATE IF POSSIBLE
None of us is superhuman and able to juggle all home and personal life tasks at the same time. So if you are financially able, think about bringing in outside help: Maybe an online part-time tutor to help your kids, or a meal-prep delivery service to lighten the domestic load.
If you do not have extra financial resources right now, get creative by sharing everyday tasks with partners, friends or family members, or creating 'learning pods' with other neighborhood families.
"Finding other support mechanisms can be an important strategy," says Mercer's Pressman. "But it does require a lot more planning, delegation and discipline. That will help you block off periods on your calendar, so you have more time to really focus on family."
USE A RITUAL TO SHIFT GEARS
If you do not take deliberate action to separate them, work and home life will naturally bleed into each other.
When Toronto freelance journalist Renée Sylvestre-Williams is finished with her projects for the day – right now her workstation is set up at her condo's dining-room table – "I switch off my desk light, work out, shower, and change into casual clothes," Sylvestre-Williams says. "That routine really closes my day."
We're all learning as we go here, and a good mantra for 2020 is: Whatever works.
For DeGroot, for instance, her innovative antidote to pandemic burnout involved carving out a midweek block of time on Wednesday mornings, just for her and whatever she wants to do.
"Not only did I give myself a little break during the week, but I became much more effective on Monday and Tuesday," she says. "It's been heaven."
(Reporting by Chris Taylor, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)