With millions of people in lockdown across the world the Coronavirus outbreak has not just blurred the boundaries between work and home but ripped those walls down – for many, the office and home are now one and the same place and it is not necessarily a positive experience.
Dr Yasin Rofcanin of the University of Bath’s School of Management, an expert on boundary theory, has examined how best we can distinguish between work and home, and how to turn home life into productive work life without comprising the quality of either.
“Boundary theory tells us that individuals prefer different levels of separation between the work and family domains. We all know that some employees prefer their work and family domains to be as segmented as possible whereas others prefer their domains to be more integrated. This will be particularly important at the moment, as many people struggle to juggle their work with their home obligations,” Rofcanin said.
Key to coping is to look at yourself and decide whether you are a ‘segmentor’, who prefers to keep work and family lives separated, or an ‘integrator’, who does not mind managing work and family issues at the same time. Regardless of which category you fall under, a structured approach is crucial, he said.
“If you are a segmentor, you should clarify to your family when and from where you will work. And communicate those times not only to your loved ones but to your peers, work colleagues and bosses so that, as far as possible, they don’t expect a response from you outside your ‘worktime’,” Rofcanin said.
Integrators have to be careful to achieve a balance and may not be aware of the scales tipping too far in one direction. Rofcanin advises making a list of goals for both the work and family domains and sticking to it as closely as possible.
“It is easy to lose sight of what you are doing as an integrator in the blur of work and family life. Since you are performing both simultaneously and interchangeably, you may not realize one is taking up the time of the other,” he said.
Rofcanin said line managers faced particular difficulties during the outbreak and that it was vital for them to show empathy and perspective to get their teams through the crisis.
“You do not have to be physically present with your team members. But ensuring you are there for them at an emotional, fraught time is a key opportunity to gain the trust of your employees. Indeed, our research has supported this claim, showing that employees who receive emotional support from their leaders and peers are likely to be more productive, as they feel empowered to do what they need to get the job done in their own way,” he said.
Rofcanin said leaders should show genuine interest and appreciation for the efforts, dedication and sacrifices of their teams during a time of great stress on themselves and their loved ones.
“While some people might recoil at the idea of the boss contacting them at the weekend or outside working hours, an informal note showing concern for their welfare may be well received. Do not ask them however if they’ll meet a deadline! Indeed, do not ask them anything about their work. But make it clear that you are not taking their dedication for granted,” he said.
Rofcanin advised workers to engage in their family and home lives – and there were distinct benefits for employers if workers were able to do this.
“Our research has shown that employees who are able to engage fully in their home life get recharged but also feel satisfied and gratified that they are able to focus on - what is for most people - their most important responsibility. This means that they are able to concentrate better on work as they aren’t feeling distracted or pulled in different directions,” he said.
Rofcanin said it was vital for workers to integrate leisure activity into the daily routine, with studies showing that benefited both work and family domains.
“Do your work in a way that allows you to still care for yourself, whether that is doing indoor sports at home, reading, or participating in book clubs. If you let work expand and take over your whole day that could have negative effects for you, your family and your company as you might end up stressed and unwell. So, do everyone a favour and ensure quality leisure time!,” he said.