Last week I wrote about how the pandemic dramatically changed the way we work, practically overnight. We talked about how ALL change is seen as stressful, so initially working from home was seen as stressful too: How am I supposed to get anything done, with all those distractions around the house? But now that we’ve proven we CAN work from home, returning to work begs the same stressful question: How am I supposed to get anything done with all those distractions around the office?
Ironic, isn’t it? People hate change so much they don’t even realize it when they hate a change that reverses a change they hated making previously!
While some people initially dreaded moving work to home, it immediately brought about some unexpected benefits. As I pointed out in last week’s blog: It allowed employees (while on the clock) to: Get laundry done, take care of sick kids, stay home with a cold or minor illness (and continue working), eliminate commuting time, pick up kids after school, and not have to pay for after school childcare. These are just a few of the work-life balance perks picked up during the pandemic.
There’s a new term for work-life balance that I’m kind of liking: It’s called work-life integration. As I think about what’s involved in moving from home BACK to the workplace, I think this will be the better model for us all moving forward. The general consensus is, if you are going to ask people to lose two hours everyday commuting, absorb the cost of that commute and risk disease, (and possibly transferring that to immune-compromised family members), you had better make it worth their while. Mostly what I see some organizations doing is attempting to turn the workplace into a work AND fun place. A lot of times, wellness companies lead the way in creating these kind of spaces.
The first time I saw standing desks and lounge areas, was at StayWell in Minneapolis, 20 years ago. The first time I saw a ping pong table in an office was at Welcoa in Omaha Nebraska more than ten years ago. But the first time I saw an office that truly represented what I’m calling work-life integration was at a small, spiritual growth, publishing company in Colorado called Sounds True.
I just happened to arrive at their headquarters on “Wear Pajamas to Workday.” When the receptionist greeted me with her hair in these 50’s style curlers and wearing a 1950’s bathrobe, I looked at her kind of funny and said: “I heard people were wearing costumes today but I didn’t really understand the full extent of it.” She looked relieved that she didn’t have to explain her very odd outfit. This was over 15 years ago, and I was wearing a coat and tie. I said: “I guess I’m a tad over-dressed for this meeting today.”
“Well,” she said kindly, “You are over-dressed for any day around here.”
Long before casual Fridays was a thing, everyone in this office who wasn’t in pajamas was wearing VERY casual clothes and it was only Tuesday. As I walked past the reception area, I could hear peals of laughter coming from a nearby kitchen where a jolly group of costumed employees was preparing a communal breakfast. As I continued my tour of the building there were areas where people could just hang out and socialize. There were areas where people could play.
My host introduced me to some of the people working in the spacious offices that lined the perimeter of building. Every office door was wide open. All the offices had large windows with spectacular views of the Colorado Rockies. The first person I met had two dogs sleeping peacefully in the corner of her office. The second person’s office had a mini-pool table. The third person had another dog. (I would meet many dogs that day.)
But what I saw in the next office really shocked me. There were three kids under the age of eight, playing quietly with toys on a plush throw rug, laid out in the corner of this otherwise tidy office. The woman working there explained that it was vacation week at her kids’ school. She had had no luck finding childcare and could just bring the kids to work that week as a result. Now that’s work-life integration.
Sounds True was not some huge billion-dollar high-tech company trying to lure employees with endless perks. No, this was a very small company with under a hundred employees just trying to help their workers achieve a sense of balance, long before the term work-life integration was ever invented.
So making the workplace a destination where employees would actually want to go is certainly within the means of just about any company large or small. And it’s what many offices are doing to facilitate the move from home to the office and achieve work-life integration at the same time. In my next installment I’ll talk about other things management can do to entice people back to the workplace and make the transition between remote work and office work, a whole lot less stressful. Spoiler alert, it all starts with flexibility!