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Work-life integration is here to stay, but our partitions are gone

September 24, 2020
clock 5 MIN READ

After an extended summer pause, we are happy to be back at Front and Centered!  

If you read this blog or follow me on social, you know I have been discussing the value of bringing your whole self to work for quite a while. Since long before COVID-19, in the Front and Centered community, we have been discussing the opportunities and need to “integrate” life and work, not “balance” them. I did a Ted Talk on integration several years ago and I teach a course on it called Managing Yourself and Your Career at Villanova Executive Education.

When COVID-19 forced that integration on most of the world, our team was already well prepared for working remotely. We had embraced remote work several years ago, with teammates working from home, on the road, and part time. So the initial move to remote work was pretty normal for the majority of us…at least in theory.  

Work-life integration, overnight!

When COVID-19 arrived, integration was no longer a choice, but a requirement, whether we were prepared or not. No one could go into the office, ever — something none of us had ever anticipated.  Suddenly, overnight, we are working in our homes alongside our significant others, kids, brothers, sisters, roommates, etc. We were living and working in one integrated world every minute of every day.  

The pandemic accelerated some necessary changes that many companies had been holding off on, like remote work and flexibility. So normal corporate resistance was gone, which is a great thing. People were no longer hiding their lives, rather they were using their lives as conversation pieces on Zoom calls. They were not apologizing for running an errand or dealing with a child, they were making you aware so it could be accommodated. The partitions between work and life were gone.

We all stopped judging and started supporting each other.

Simply said, humans were allowed to act human. We all stopped judging and started supporting each other. It began to feel like it was ok to let everyone know you had a life outside of work. How refreshing! It felt like freedom. This should last well beyond COVID-19. It should never again be acceptable to say that work flexibility “is not possible” when the entire world just witnessed it happening successfully first-hand. 

However, this newfound freedom is not without its “new” issues.

The downside of no partitions

As time passed, it all just all felt like work. I would go into my office early in the morning, come out for lunch with the family (if my day allowed) and go back to my office, where I usually stayed well into the evening. I was never fully present at home even though I was there all the time. I would move from one Zoom call to another. I was super productive, but I was exhausted. By not commuting, I was picking up hours in my day, but they were consumed by more and more meetings. With my newfound freedom, I somehow felt like I had lost time. How could that be?  

No partitions. My life was integrated — but not the way it had been before. There were no trips to the office, a time I used to make calls to catch up with friends or clients. There were no trips to the gym, a place for me to be off the grid for an hour. There was no sitting in a coffee shop reflecting on my day, week, month — often a place and a time I would use to write new blog posts. My former routine had a lot of “unofficially scheduled” partitions that I did not recognize nor openly value back then. I took my life’s partitions for granted. I did not see the value in those partitions. Well no longer.

Regaining time by rebuilding partitions 

Over the last couple of months, I have begun to create new partitions. I get up early to read and reflect at my kitchen counter or outside on the deck with my dogs. I now do it every day, not just if I happen to have a minute. I eat lunch and dinner with the family at the same times every day. I can count on it and they can count on me. The phone is away and the discussion is about our lives, not work. 

I set up virtual “office hours” at work in order to catch up with teammates like we used to in the office, coffee shop or cafeteria. This is a time to say hi, share stories, talk about our families and sometimes share work issues. Basically, I rebuilt work-life partitions to accommodate this new form of integrated life.    

Flexibility is here to stay

I am still the biggest proponent of living an integrated life, but I admit this experience tested even my ability to make it work. In the end, we need to look at integration as one positive to come out of the pandemic. I think work flexibility is here to stay, but it will take different forms in different industries and companies. As we all adjust to this flexibility, we’ll be presented with new challenges that are actually disguised opportunities allowing us to figure out a better way forward. We will need to rethink how we all live, work and relate in this now integrated life. 

We can let go of the fight for flexibility and freedom — it is here to stay. We now need to begin to innovate how we live and work in our integrated lives. It should provide for interesting conversation and progressive work cultures.

How have you adapted? What have your biggest challenges been? Any tips to make it work for your situation? I would love to hear for you — drop a note in the comments if you are willing to share.

Thanks for sticking with us. It’s great to be back!

Albert Chiaradonna

Executive Vice President, SEI Global Private Banking

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