The pandemic changed the way many finance professionals work, for better and worse. As some people transition back to the office, this liminal period could be the perfect time to reset your boundaries and achieve your ideal work/life balance.
“Before the pandemic, everybody thought they knew what work should look like, but as we come out of the pandemic, nobody is quite as sure,” said Priscilla Claman, consultant and founder of Career Strategies Inc., based in Boston. “I see this as a really big opportunity.”
If you’re preparing to return to the office part time or full time, consider seizing this moment and holding on to the best aspects of working from home while reclaiming whatever you’ve missed about office life with the following steps.
Join the decision-makers. Many organisations are figuring out their plans for returning to the office, and Claman argued that one of the best ways to secure your ideal outcome is to become one of those decision-makers.
“Volunteer to join your organisation’s return-to-work task force because then you'll have a better chance of holding on to what you want,” she said. “We don't know what the future is going to look like, so my best idea is to help shape the future in any way you can.”
Consider what you’ve learned during the pandemic. The past year and a half has in some ways been a massive experiment in remote work, and many people have likely gained new insights into how they work best.
“I think this is a great time for both personal and organisational reflection on what worked and what didn't,” said Donna W. McCloskey, Ph.D., professor of management at Widener University in Chester, Pennsylvania. “We should consider the technologies that made us more efficient and effective that we're going to keep and those that are not serving us well, what we learned about our work styles, and what we learned about different ways of collaborating.”
Perhaps you learned that you are more productive in the afternoons and would rather start and end work later in the day. Or maybe you realised you need portions of quiet time throughout the week to complete work that requires extreme focus. Try speaking with your manager to see whether it would be possible to allow staggered start times or designate certain days and times of the week for in-person meetings to enable everyone to mould their ideal work schedules around that.
“Don't try to fit into the box that you used to fit into or think that things are normal like they used to be,” said Matthew Kerzner, Ph.D., director in the Center for Individual and Organizational Performance at EisnerAmper, based in the US. “Everybody is starting to think creatively, and there's so much innovation that will be coming out of the last 18 months.”
Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. Whether you want to work from home a few days a week, bring your pet to the office, dress more casually, or adjust your work hours to spend more time with family — now might be the best time to ask.
“There's a skillset shortage, and retention is a big problem right now,” Kerzner said. “If we start forcing people to come back to the workplace, and it looks like it used to look, people might say there are other opportunities that are offering that flexibility.”
Both Kerzner and Claman stressed that you should not be afraid to ask your manager for what you want, although it might help to frame your request in a way that emphasises why it would be a good solution for both you and the organisation.
“You could say, ‘I've found I am much more productive working from home. For certain types of work, I need quiet and no interruptions, so I'd like to re-create that at work now,’” Claman suggested. “You have to have some knowledge of what you've done and why the person might give it to you, and you have to be very specific about why you want it. I think in this environment you're much more likely to get it.”
Redraw your boundaries to achieve greater balance. The mass shift to remote work blurred the lines between home and work life, and many people were forced to develop strategies for juggling their careers, their children’s education, and everything else within one space.
“To survive these past 18 months, we had to develop those strategies, and now we may have to unwind them,” McCloskey said. “For so long our workplace has been in our home, and as we transition back, I think we have to be careful that we create that firmer boundary between home and work.”
If you are returning to in-person work, McCloskey recommended turning all work notifications off once you get home for the day and speaking with your manager to ensure your personal boundaries are respected. Kerzner added that everyone should make an effort to tend to what he considers the six major elements of a balanced life: family, friends, work, spirituality, exercise, and education.
“These are things that make us complete as a person, and I do think that individuals need to realise what works well for them and organisations have to be flexible with people,” he said.
— Hannah Pitstick is a freelance writer based in the US. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, an FM magazine senior editor, at Andrew.Adamek@aicpa-cima.com.