Supporting a work/life balance virtually

This topic has been raised quite a lot in the past few weeks/months when I’ve been presenting webinars and keynotes on the subject of Leadership, so I wanted to take some time to share my experience and more importantly give some advice for encouraging your teams to switch off and embrace a healthy work/life balance.

Since the start of this pandemic, I have seen a lot of people working longer hours. With the removal of their commute, they are now logging in at 7-8am and not logging out until 7-8pm or even later. Whereas previously, many would take a break for lunch, they are now working at their desk and not even taking a walk or being able to have a break at the coffee machine talking to their peers. They are literally working themselves into the ground and many leaders are seeing this and wondering “how they can help”. Another thing that is around vacation days. As many of us could not go away on our normal holidays or remained at home, I saw many of the people who would normally be unreachable, checking their emails on a daily basis when they were away. What is the consequence of this? They returned to work in September still tired, still mentally exhausted and without that refreshing inputs that they would normally bring from being away for several weeks.

So, what can you do? What can you do to encourage your teams to take time during their day? How can you check in with your teams in a meaningful way? Here are a few ideas that I’ve used:

  • Take your 1-1 outside / Virtual coffee
    • If feasible, why not arrange a phone call with a team member and you both take a walk for 20-30minutes? It can be a nice way to make sure that you’re getting some fresh air and a different way of managing your meeting.
    • I am also scheduling 15 min ‘virtual coffees’ with colleagues that I don’t directly work with just to be able to catch up with them and ‘check in’. We don’t have to talk about work (we rarely do!) but it’s just a nice way to have a break and connect with some colleagues who could be isolated.
  • Lead by example
    • When you go on holiday, do you check your email? are you available by phone? Consider making it a rule that noone checks their email or is contacted during their holidays. This could be a wider issue in your organisation where there is an ‘expectation’ that you are available on your days off but I am very strict with my teams.
    • You need to make some strict rules for vacation. Here are mine:
      • “Holidays are for resting/recuperating/enjoying. They are not for work”
      • Turn off your PC, put it away and out of sight.
      • You will not check your emails. If I see you online, there will be a warning given.
      • If you send an email, it will be replied to until you return
      • You are responsible for ensuring an effective handover has been completed. This handover will ensure that you can go on holiday without worrying that things will be missed
    • During a recent townhall, the head of the organisation that I’m in held a poll and one of the questions was: “Have you been outside today?” He then continued to encourage everyone to get outside for a bit every day/ take a walk or do exercise to ensure that we were keeping healthy. This is a great way of leading by example!
  • Look at your own habits
    • Are you scheduling back to back meetings? Are you not giving your team the time to be able to schedule their days how they’d like? Are meetings being scheduled very early and also very late? I am trying to encourage all of my teams to look at their meetings and consider one “meeting free day” per week. This way, we can ensure that we’re remaining flexible and effective but more importantly that we’re not overcrowding our days with meetings.
    • I am a very strong advocate for mental health/ remaining healthy and I think it’s really important to offer suggestions if your team ask for it
  • Encourage your team to take breaks
    • How many days vacation do you have left before the end of the year? I’ve seen some organisations where the teams have not had any break or rest and this means that they either need to take all of their vacation days until the end of the year or they lose them. If I see that my team are working late / working on weekends, I encourage them to log off earlier/log in later to compensate. This willingness and flexibility has been really appreciated by my team.
  • Start and end your day the right way!
    • A colleague of mine likes to walk around their neighbourhood for 15-20minutes every morning before they start work as they can separate out their ‘home’ and ‘work’ mindset. They also do this at the end of their day.
    • Another peer suggests doing 15 minutes of Yoga at the start of the day or after a stressful meeting to relax your mind and body and ensure that you can continue to be productive
    • Consider exercising first thing in the morning or using it as an incentive to turn off your PC at the end of the day. A friend of mine goes out running at 5.30pm every day or walks his dog as a signal to himself that he has finished work.
    • Switch off your PC entirely. Do not just put it in stand-by / sleep mode.
  • Exercise!
    • Exercise in whatever form is such a valuable way of ensuring a good work/life balance that I would strongly encourage all of you to look at what you like to do and embrace exercise within your daily life. This could be a walk around the block, a gentle cycle to the shops or a longer endurance run. Being healthy is a great way to ensure a positive mental health.

What are your top tips for encouraging a good work/life balance? Let’s Share knowledge!

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