After over a year of working remotely, a return to the office raises questions. After roughly a year of working from home, Michael Stephens’ first day back in her office felt like the first day of junior high. “There’s a super nervous […]
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Our government could have paid people to stop working and stay home, where they could not catch the virus. They did not. Instead, they told service workers they were essential and sent some of them out to risk their lives working.
“This is the life that could not stop working. Even when everything else stopped working, and despite everything else going crazy, we prioritized work. Our love, our life; the love of our life.”
We were forced to choose between our health and our jobs. Most of us chose our jobs. And when companies shut down and jobs vanished, the unemployed among us had to pry vanishingly tiny benefits or go out and find new jobs.
Those of us who were lucky enough to have jobs that could be done from home, brought our work into our living rooms, our kitchens, and our bedrooms. We challenged ourselves to meet and even exceed our pre-pandemic goals, against unfavorable odds. Despite everything, we prioritized work.
We have treated work as something to be taken home and cherished. Work became our lover. And this year, we took it to bed.
In year 2011, Melissa Gregg published a three-year ethnographic study of the professional lives of a group of knowledge workers in Brisbane, Australia. It was titled, Work’s Intimacy. Gregg’s study found that as mobile technologies like laptops and smartphones and wifi proliferated, and as jobs became more precarious and subject to mass layoffs, office workers had begun to experience their entire lives as work-centric.
An Identify and Culture Crisis That Fuels An Uneasy Love Intimacy With Work
There is an identify that our job gives us. For example, the joy of been seen as a competent and dedicated professional. Then our culture makes us disposed to spend our leisure hours thinking of work, and feeling obligated to it. Technology adds to it by providing an added incentive to just go ahead and do that work, no matter where we are or what time it is.
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If work is assessed as infidelity, it will score high. The time spent engaged in work-related tasks regularly rivaled or came at the expense of other experiences. We obsess over our jobs because we know we can’t count on them. So we keep thinking about them after we leave the office. And in the end, we find ourselves unable to get them out of our minds, like a bad boyfriend.
Withholding attention from our work and from our screens may make us feel guilty, as though we are somehow cheating. But that shouldn’t be surprising. We’ve been taught to treat work as a loved one. So turning our attention away from it, to other and more valued objects, would be a kind of adultery.
Work is not just in our homes all the time now. Work has very literally gone to bed with us. And work wants to have a serious talk about where this relationship is going. But we do not have to be trapped in an endless, stifling love affair with our own labor. We can build our lives around other things. Things that matter more to us – our loved ones, our communities, and the world in which we live.
The wall of tradition is coming to an end, and millennials have cemented and taken on the mantle of gender equality. Fathers in general are more involved in their children’s lives more than ever before, and now with the pandemic even more so. And they like it.
But women still carry out more of the responsibilities at home. Women still do more housework than men even if they earn more money than their husband. The scales of society rules are still tipped in man’s favor, but equality is in the pipeline.
Simple things like not having to be in the office meant not having to be out the door before the kids woke up.
Not having to do all that has allowed me time to have breakfast with the kids, which is something really small. But now, I couldn’t think of not doing that.
It allowed my wife to be more relaxed going to work, knowing that the kids were being looked after.
For many dads who may miss going to the office, being present in the family life “certainly outweighs” the rat race. This is what has always saw us struggling to get to the office for 8am.
A dad said, “the kids are enjoying having me around and I am enjoying being there and being more available for my family. These days, I am 100 per cent happier as a person and as a father. I feel sad in a way. And that is because I wasn’t around far more earlier in my kids life, when they were younger.
Giving individuals control over how to work boosts motivation. It allows them to produce quality work, and encourages a strong work-life balance.
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Shifting to remote work should not be the only focus of work redesign. A policy declaring that people must work remotely, or even one saying they can work whenever and wherever they want can have issues. It can easily become pressure to work longer hours and be available 24/7—leading to burnout over time.
There are two important elements of the initiative studied by Erin L. Kelly and Phyllis Moen. They are; training managers to shift how they approached their roles and how they can help their teams to identify and reduce low-value work.
First, managers need to express support of employees’ personal lives and to clearly articulate performance goals and expectations. This help managers to focus on monitoring results rather than “face time” at the office.
Secondly, structured team discussions helped overloaded employees identify changes they could make as individuals and teams. This work redesign approach ultimately changed everyday work practices. Such as, reducing the number of meetings or the number of people required to attend them, and increasing the ability to work remotely. It also help with the identification of low-value work that teams can reduce and still hold work hours steady.
These changes improved well-being and work/life integration for employees and managers. There was an increase in job satisfaction, and the company benefited from reduced costs associated with turnover among valuable employees.
But such benefits arise only when employees feel they can choose where and when they work – not by mandating some particular mix of remote and in-office work. It is also critical that managers and coworkers respect workers’ personal and family situations. In other words, the benefits documented come not from a policy allowing remote work per se, but from gaining a sense of control and support.
No One Size Fits All
The exact mix or blend of remote and in-office work may depend on the work being done and the personal lives of the workforce, but working at home exclusively only works well for some employees and roles. However, the research shows that having some say in when, where, and how they work is highly valued by many employees, and can be good for a company’s bottom line.
The work redesign approach deployed in this study did not set up formal policies laying out how much time was expected in the office. It does not also require individuals to get permission from their managers to work from home. Instead, it encourages regular conversations about how people hoped to work and how the team could coordinate to do its best work. Thereby, setting the stage for adaptable and customized ways of working.
This is the perfect moment to launch a work redesign initiative like the one researched. This can be done by inviting teams to discuss and learn from how they adapted during the pandemic and how they struggled, and to imagine what might work well for them. Erin and Phyllis created free training resources from their study, including a facilitator’s guide to implementing this kind of work redesign program.
Erin L. Kelly is the Sloan distinguished professor of work and organization studies at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Phyllis Moen holds the McKnight endowed presidential chair in sociology at the University of Minnesota. They are the authors of Overload: How Good Jobs Went Bad and What We Can Do About It.
Self-love is the process of knowing yourself, connecting with your inner self, overcoming self-limiting beliefs, letting go of everything that doesn’t serve you, and falling in love with yourself.
Self-love helps silence the fear of rejection, our inner critic, and instead befriend it to serve us rather than taunt us. And we develop confidence in what we stand for, when we know who we are from within. With self-love, we are able to let go of self-judgment, negative thoughts, opinions, and people who are not aligned with us.
When we accept ourselves wholly for who we are, people around us also start seeing us in the same light. Likewise, when we love what we do and do what we love, we are alive and soaring in all that we do. This further draws others with positive energy to us. Ultimately, that power of love for yourself, will not only elevate your relationship with yourself, but enhance and deepen your relationship with work, family, life, and everything around you.