What to do when we cannot disconnect from work in the pandemic
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
By Carin-Isabel Knoop , Harvard Business School
Dolphins would do much better working from home than we do. They have the ability to live in two worlds at the same time: at night they keep one eye open and one side of the brain alert, while leaving the other eye closed and the other side of the brain asleep.
As for us, we spend the day exchanging identities: between the personal self and the professional self, alternating not only between screens, but also between our different personalities and worlds, even in our own home.
We have lost the social norms that used to delimit informality, formality and reality. This loss can represent a challenge, but also an opportunity.
What could be done not only to survive this bimodality - separating or bringing together the personal and the professional depending on what is most beneficial - but also to create a new work environment? We have two options: Reconstruct and preserve the boundaries between the personal world and the professional world, while maintaining certain openings between the two, and / or promote greater integration between our worlds.
Fused lives and crossed borders
In recent decades, the boundaries between our professional and personal lives have blurred. In our current knowledge economy, we are expected to be constantly connected. Furthermore, COVID-19 has erased the fragile separation that remained.
One line of research suggests that compartmentalizing and delimiting work and home is essential for our productivity and health.
The blurring of the boundaries between professional and private life, or what Blake Ashforth of Arizona State University describes as " boundary-crossing activities ," can lead to distractions, burnout, and even mental health problems.
How can we tackle this phenomenon and create healthier work environments?
Option 1: "Chop the pudding"
Managers must take responsibility for coordinating the workflow of their teams, communicating with their employees, and providing them with the necessary resources so that they can establish physical and temporal boundaries between their work tasks.
Create physical boundaries . In normal times, simple things, like putting on your suit and going to work, signal a transition. Experts suggest creating “physical” boundaries between our professional and personal identities : getting dressed every morning for work; replace our commutes with daily exercise or create a separate workspace at home.
Respect time limits . Maintaining a regular work schedule can present a considerable challenge, especially for workers who are both in charge of their families and of their work tasks. But without limits, workers will feel obliged to systematically answer each email instead of defining and respecting working hours. Expectations should be set together that allow both parties to maximize their productivity, while providing a life outside of work and determining their time availability.
Option 2: "Speed up the mix"
We can also learn to function better by mixing our work hours, restructuring our work, improving our communication, and reconciling our professional and personal environments. Encouraging greater diversity, inclusion and belonging, as well as remote working, allow us to share more easily with our co-workers.
We also spend the day pretending to be several different people. However, pretending to be someone we are not can be a significant source of stress and cognitive dissonance in the professional context, especially for ethnic minorities. Two-thirds of us hide their true identities at work, often leading to degradation of both our physical and mental health.
In our "mixed scene", we do not try to display different personalities. We can focus on our essential tasks during our most productive hours throughout the day or have business meetings while we stroll to fuel our creativity .
We can also check more frequently how we are and how our co-workers are, while identifying the challenges that prevent us from having a productive and mixed life.
There are many voices that agree that it is of the utmost importance that teams have the necessary tools to manage their individual well-being and that of their families, as our colleague Teresa Martín-Retortillo , president of IE Business School Executive Education at IE University, tells us.
Martín-Retortillo assures that well-being in its holistic concept has never had such a determining role or was so linked to the social context as now. In fact, in the area it directs, the IE Executive Education team has been training managers on these issues for years with the support of the IE Center for Health, Well-Being & Happiness that the academic institution has.
After all, and like dolphins, maybe we can learn to be truly present in two worlds, or wear our pajama tops to make zoom calls.