When I Return to Work, I’ll Think More Like a Goose
Beyond “work” and “life,” I’ve got a lot of things to get in order to find my own balance.
Over the past month, millions of workers have left the office for their homes, instantly commingling the ideas of “work” and “life” in the same physical space. And as their community and government leaders contemplate what lifting stay-at-home orders might look like, these same workers are starting to think about whether they want to go back, or whether there’s something they prefer about working from home full time.
It used to be that people talked about achieving “work-life balance,” as if they were contradictory ideas that didn’t naturally go well together. But as we’ve grown accustomed to videoconferencing colleagues from their living rooms, with kids and cats occasionally wandering across the background, we’ve learned that “work” and “life” are two parts of our selves that can amplify and grow from one another.
At Motus, we were supporting telework long before the COVID crisis. With an unlimited PTO policy and no official “starting and finishing” hours to our workday, we told hundreds of employees that we trusted them to work when they needed to, as much as they needed to, to get the job at hand done. We gave them the tools and the technologies to make that happen, and we weren’t too particular about where it took place. Yes, we had offices that people liked to go to a fair bit of time, but they were full of unassigned desks and collaboration rooms that people could drop in and out of — and it wasn’t unusual for someone to be appearing on the conference room screens from their porch at home, or car on the way to a kid’s doctor’s appointment.
While the workplace learned to make room for occasional family disruptions, our families also learned to make room for the occasional work need. Yes — I might need to step away from a barbecue for 15 minutes to deal with an emergency now and again, but it came with the tradeoff of being available for way more barbecues than I would be otherwise.
When the holidays roll around, office-bound workers at other companies often find themselves going in for days on end between Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years and accomplishing little, just because they didn’t have more than 3 or 4 vacations days saved up to spend with family. In contrast, I’ve been able to go away with my family for 2 or more weeks of vacation during that time — with the understanding that I might shut myself away in a bedroom for a couple of hours each day to keep work moving along. I might not get to join them every time they go ice skating or put together every puzzle — but being there for 80% of the big activities across 2 weeks is a lot more than being there for 100% of the activities across 3 days.
At Motus, we call it “Finding Your Own Balance” so much that we’ve shortened it with the hashtag #FYOB. And when it comes inside a culture that trusts and values each employee — and gives them clear, appropriately-sized performance objectives - it works out really well for everyone.
A good friend of mine is a therapist who talks about “all of the aspects of the self.” Most people who talk about “work/life balance” really are using “life” as a catch-all for “everything else.” So, I like that he makes many more distinctions — noting that we are parents and partners that have relationships to manage, we have spiritual longings to nurture, and artistic thoughts to express. We have physical selves to develop and intellectual pursuits that spark our imaginations. We have financial dreams to pursue and specific career and educational goals to progress, and much more.
In his description, each of these facets of the self are like individual geese in a single flock. When the flock takes flight, one goose takes the lead, and the rest line up in a beautiful V formation behind it, flapping their wings in synch with one another. Those geese are lifted on the updraft the lead goose creates, and their flight becomes exponentially easier. After a time, the lead goose needs a break, and moves to the back of the V, honking its encouragement at the next goose to have taken the lead.
In a similar way, “Finding Your Balance” means getting clear about which of your geese is in the lead at the moment, and how that affects all the rest of them. Perhaps there’s a time when you’re training for your first marathon and your work is going to yield way to your training schedule for a few weeks. After you’ve achieved the goal and are basking in the accomplishment, you’re ready to put work projects in the forefront for a bit — you’ve got more energy and do them better, but some family matters may take a pause for a bit — but they’ll be taking lead-goose position in a couple of weeks when it’s time to start coaching the kids’ soccer team.
I’ve talked about these ideas with non-Motus folks before, and they sometimes say “this sounds great in theory, but it never could work out in my company.” They’re the same folks who were adamant that most of their workers could not possibly do their jobs outside the confines of an office with a 9 to 5 works schedule, only to discover in the past weeks that not only could their entire company telecommute, they were more engaged, focused and productive than they were before. Skipping the hour-each-way commute each day has given them five extra hours each week to devote to work AND five extra hours to spend with the family — and everyone is happier for it.
So, as we start thinking about what “opening the country back up” and a “return to work” might look like — is it possible that the new normal will include a whole lot more geese?