Is it possible to achieve a work-life balance during COVID-19? Many employees in Malaysia were affected by the pandemic, causing everyone to experience a new career lifestyle. If you're struggling, here are some ways and tips on how you can have a healthy work-life balance in this new normal.
Since the pandemic broke out early this year, the line between work and life has been seriously blurred. While the world stopped moving, work doesn’t… and this leaves workers shifting to a working from home instead of in the office.
We’ve seen countless familiar scenarios - meetings are scheduled back-to-back, employees wake up and take 10 minutes to prepare for a conference call, and more. Although this may sound incredibly efficient for work, employees also find that they have no time for lunch, for themselves, and for their family.
As things gradually improve in certain parts of the world (Malaysia, for example, has progressed from a strict Movement Control Order to a Recovery Movement Control order in less than six months), workers are starting to trickle back into their offices. However, things are not quite the same in this New Normal, and we’ll explain how in the next section.
How is working in the New Normal different?
If you thought that going back to work in the New Normal would be resetting your life to 2019, well, maybe not.
For one, both employers and employees have been exposed to working life outside the office. Companies that are digital-first are finding even more ways to incorporate more of their lives online. On the other hands, analogue companies are finding themselves - albeit not without challenges - moving into a digital front.
And you didn’t know what it’s like in a digital career, well you’re pretty much enabled with what you need to work round the clock, wherever and whenever that is. As such, many companies are now questioning the need to even have an office.
“There will be a long-term adjustment in how we think about our location strategy ... the notion of putting 7,000 people in a building may be a thing of the past,” Barclays CEO, Jes Staley told CNBC.com. To add to that, a survey by research company Gartner on 317 CFOs showed that 3 in 4 intend on moving “at least 5% of their previously on-site workforce to permanently remote positions post-COVID 19.”
This means that companies may consider being more effective with space and cash flow. How? By downsizing their office and having employees work on a split-team arrangement.
That could also open up avenues for more digital remote-working jobs, where such employees could fall under contracts instead of permanent positions. This makes for an employment commitment that is far more affordable for companies, as they will be able to save big time on benefits and remunerations.
Adding to that, companies are still suffering the brunt of the pandemic which has brought revenue to a halt. With that regarded, all employees must now be even more diligent in their work to ensure that they bring value to their company in order to justify their employment and salary package.
On a local front, there are companies who are introducing new processes - such as using results and performance-based KPIs instead of them being based on activities. Derek Toh, found of local recruitment site WOBB, tells Vulcan Post: “This may seem uncomfortable and feel like micro-managing at first, but over time, teams will get used to being accountable and realise that it’s the trade-off for the benefits of remote working.”
In that same article, Zikry Kholil, co-founder of CSR platform Incitement adds that they no longer have fixed working hours which would typically focus on results produced based on the objective key results, KPIs and goals. Instead, they have daily 15-minute scrum meetings in the morning and an hour meeting on Mondays to review progress from their previous work, and plan for the coming week. All these are done via Google Hangout.
Add two and two together, and you will see that working in the New Normal will continue to blur the lines between work and life. In fact, there seems to be two schools of thought - one believes in compartmentalised living where both work and play should not coexist. The other school of thought believes that balancing is a thing of the past - we are now moving towards integrating both worlds.
Regardless which you fall under, the question remains - how can one achieve work-life balance in this New Normal? How can both coexist when we are so conditioned to thinking that they are set on polar opposites, and that one must push for the other to pull?
How to achieve work life balance in the new normal
1. You still need to prioritise your job
Let’s just start with setting the right mindset - no matter what, you still need to put very high importance to your job. That’s because we’re living in uncertain times, and job security is a massive issue at this point. The last thing you want is to lose your job - unless you’re comfortable enough to live without an active income to support yourself and your family.
With a mindset like that, it will be easier for you to make certain decisions - even if they mean having less time for yourself. But on that same note…
2. You need to set your boundaries
Physically or not, you need to know where to stop. Some employees have a rule of confining their physical workspace to a study room, or the dining table at most. This allows them to have proper rest when they’re in their living room or on their bed.
You can also set boundaries to your phones. Sometimes, airplane mode can be your best friend. Choosing a reasonable cut-off time for work communications, or opting for communications afterhours to be done via email instead of WhatsApp/Slack, can help you break away from work.
3. You need to take care of yourself
When you overlap work and life, you will definitely need to take more care on your health. Think of it as a machine being used over and over again - it will need some care and maintenance in order for it to last a long time. We hate to compare ourselves to machines, but there are undeniable parallels.
In other words, you need to first invest in your own health in order for you to be able to go the distance. These three pillars of your life should be considered:
- Your physical well being - Take the time to eat well, sleep well, and play well. If you can’t eat on time, then make healthier options instead of reaching out for another packet of ramyun. Schedule some time for your own home or gym workouts, and catch at least 7 hours of sleep before you wake up and start a brand new day.
- Your mental well being - Keep your mind at ease and be watchful of signs of a mental breakdown. Practice having positive thoughts instead of entertaining negativity, and learn how to manage your stress levels. You can even consider breathing exercises which will greatly improve your feelings and emotions.
- Your social well being - You may be physically distancing yourself from others, but that does not mean socially distancing yourself. Keep abreast of what your friends and family are doing instead of disconnecting from them.
- Your ‘big picture’ goal - What’s your purpose in life? What do you want to achieve in life? Remember your big picture goal so you won’t let the daily grind wear you out.
4. Create a new commute to your “new workplace”
Although you may hate having to commute to work, it may actually have some benefit.
“Having worked from home for the past few months, I realise that going back to the office was a great way to disconnect,” Ryan N, Director of eCommerce in the local arm of a global marketing firm told us. “And by that, I literally mean the journey itself. Ending the day with a drive home felt “official”, and reminded me of post-COVID times.”
If you’re working from home in this New Normal, you can still try to do the same by having your ‘new’ commute route. In essence, it’s a routine you do before and after work. You can always consider waking up at the same time as you usually would, but instead of driving to work, you take the time to walk around the park or to grab some coffee while you’re out.
When you return home, you can start your work at your desk - then end your day with another routine (like a short workout, or, another walk in the park). These are little ‘ceremonies’ that can condition yourself into breaking your day into different phases, therefore helping you draw your boundaries at the same time.
5. Address resource issues in your team
If you’re being overworked and are completely unable to have your own time, could it be because your team is struggling with resources? If your team is massively incapacitated when one person becomes unavailable to work, then it would look like there is a serious resource issue to address.
As such, it would be a good idea to communicate this with your supervisor so the situation improves. At the end of the day, if you’re affected, chances are your team member could be affected the same way too.
Getting to the root cause of an unmanageable workload will allow you to deliver better quality work and go the distance for your company.