February 15, 2023
For decades the line between home-life and work-life has been blurring. This has only been accelerating as the equation of internet + mobile devices has caused many of us to stay connected well past our “working hours”. It’s a common habit to check your email on your phone as soon as you wake up, and right before you go to bed because you can’t miss a beat. Or maybe you have to “get ready for Monday” by working a few hours on the weekends because work doesn’t let you disconnect. It’s one thing to leverage working from home to provide you the flexibility to work odd hours that benefit your life. It’s a completely different thing to feel like you can’t disconnect and now work is impeding upon your home-life.
Burnout culture isn’t unique to either in-office or at-home employees. However, what is unique for those that work from home is the fact that those blurred lines become even harder to see when you are taking all your meetings, all project work, and all brainstorming from your home. When employees work from home I think it’s critical for leaders to remember that working from home is different. You, as the leader and as a company, are impacting their homes and their families in ways that you don’t when they work in an office. Simply put, working from home is more than just work, it’s personal.
When you work in an office you have a commute that allows you to decompress and process the day a bit. For those of us that are introverts, it gives us an opportunity to recharge and get ready for jumping into family life. However, when you work from home your commute becomes the 20 feet between your office door and the kitchen. You have no downtime to decompress, and this has been especially true when our families are on the other side of the office door and need help with X things before our last meeting is even done.
Not only do you get the benefit of decompressing on the commute home, but so does your family. Instead, when you work from home your family gets the raw consequences of every meeting. There have been plenty of times that my wife has just sat there patiently as I dropped all of my frustrations from the last meeting right into her lap. I may have done that to some extent if I worked in the office, but not as much as I do knowing she’s just on the other side of my office.
Getting it unfiltered like that also means the families become even more invested in the employee’s work environment. When the employee comes out of meetings talking about how they “love working with so-and-so because they ask great questions and keep the meeting on agenda”, it may not be exciting to their family, but you better believe the organization will be perceived as a positive influence on not just the employee but the family as a whole. Of course, when they come out complaining that “so-and-so once again forgot about blah blah blah” their family is more likely to see the organization in a negative light and encourage the employee to leave for something healthier.
Lastly, I think it’s important for leaders to remember that the home is a sacred space, and work, whether welcomed or not, has invaded that space. When our direct reports turn on their cameras and we see their homes we see another part of who they are. We get to know them better, and to some extent, they have become vulnerable because of it. They may be embarrassed that they don’t have a dedicated space and instead you are in their kitchen seeing every dirty dish in the sink. They may not have mentioned before they play board games every Monday night, but now you can see all +50 games on the shelves behind them. And while you may love getting to see their kids and dogs every day, they feel like you think less of them because they are constantly being interrupted. Working from home turns “why don’t we meet in the conference room to discuss” into “why don’t I come to your dining room table and we can chat about this while your kids ask ‘what’s for dinner’”.
Working from home is amazing and has helped many of us create a more personalized work/life balance. However, as leaders, we must remember that the nature of our relationship with our direct reports, their families, and their homes changes when they work from home. We must remember that working from home is more than just work, it’s personal.