Covid-19 and Our Best Selves

Thanks to Covid-19 there’s been more talk about working from home the past week then anytime I can remember.  This is not a piece about how to work better from home, it’s about how we can be better at home when we’re working.  The closing of workplaces presents a unique opportunity for all of us to reexamine the impact our jobs have on our behavior at home.

It’s a sad truth for anyone who tries to balance building a career with raising a family that more often than not we present the best version of ourselves not at home but at the office.  Our spouses or kids never see how we rock a big presentation, calmly handle annoying colleagues, wisely mentor junior members of our teams or come up with the idea that wins a big piece of business.

The behavorial and culture expectations set in healthy workplaces rightfully demand certain modes of behavior from employees.  You can’t talk to your co-workers or your boss the way you can with your spouse or kids.  Words must be chosen carefully.  Tones must be measured.  Falling asleep in meetings or securing “me” time to recharge are not acceptable at work.

By the time we walk in the door after a long day of working, commuting and traveling our energies and emotional reserves are often too drained for us to be the spouses and parents to which we aspire.  All our loved ones may see is short temperedness, exhaustion and irritabilty.  None of it representing what we want to be, but just what’s left of us in that moment after a long day at work.

The visions we have for how families interact often crashes into reality when both parents are exhausted, teens are consumed with their phones and uncompleted household projects pile up.  The heated discussions and arguments that typically result from these circumstances reveal the truth in the old adage: the people that we treat the worst are the ones we love the most.

The good news about the virus is that working from home gives us a reprieve from the grind. I expect that during the next couple of weeks those temporarily liberated from long commutes and countless hours in conference rooms will find themselves displaying more patience, good cheer and positive energy to their loved ones.  At least that has been my experience after recently leaving a high stress job with a long commute.

But how can we sustain that behavior when the world inevitably returns to normal?

First, I join the many others who hope those employers stuck in the past with “you’re not working if you’re not in the office” mentalities will finally get with the program.  That type of thinking needs to go the way of the dinosaurs for jobs not tied to performing in a specific location.  Obviously the technology is no barrier.  Managers should have the flexibility to structure work arrangements with employees as needed.

Having said that, I continue to be a big believer of the value of in person interaction.  Not all jobs can or should be done exclusively remotely.  But how many jobs truly require a 5 day office commitment?

Vacation day allotments should start at 4 weeks.  Recently a friend returning to the workplace after a long hiatus raising her kids applied for a job and was told vacation leave was two weeks for the first 4 years of employment.  Her daughter just started a job with more time off.  In this day and age two weeks is absurd, especially when most of us use technology to stay connected even while on vacation.

Finally I think more businesses should take a page from academia and support employee sabbaticals.  Giving valued employees time to recharge and pursue outside projects promotes greater loyalty and continuous learning.

The responsibility for bringing our best selves homes lies not just with our employers.  Each of us can use this time to examine changes in our personal routines and mindsets to help us be the people we want to be at home.  Consistent exercise and spiritual or meditative practices, as well as establishing screen free time are just a few of the habits that can help.

This problem is not easy to solve nor is it new.  The technology we thought would relieve these issues has in fact made things worse by making it harder to disconnect from work.  But my hope is that we make our best effort during the Covid-19 crisis to be our best in the future where it counts the most, at home.

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