In breaking down all boundaries between work and life, will COVID-19 help us finally find a balance?
By Khushbu Sikaria
Khushbu Sikaria is a multifamily innovator and business strategist. She has been a thought-leader in real estate technology, growth strategy, brand, and consumer experience. She was most recently at an early-stage start-up in the flexible living space. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Numerous friends and colleagues have asked me how I think the world, and specifically the multifamily industry, will change post-pandemic. Will we practice physical distancing long into 2021 and never shake hands, hug or embrace with colleagues or friends? Will people stop moving to cities because they’ve realized they can work from anywhere? How will these shifts affect work-life balance long term?
Over the past several weeks, I’ve observed several truths emerge as the pandemic has redefined everyday life:
- Gone are the days where people got dressed up for video calls (if only from the waist up); today, they are perfectly comfortable presenting an unadulterated version of themselves.
- Those of us with young children emphatically believe in separation of home and work and will be forever grateful for the day when once again we can seek refuge in an office with adults.
- We’ve discovered that our aspirational self who wakes up at dawn, meditates, works out and cooks a balanced breakfast is not our actual self, who does none of those things but works and snacks all day.
- Men will now never underestimate the power of a pedicure or a visit to the salon by the women in their lives.
Aside from these profound (okay, joking) thoughts, I do believe we are all going to be in desperate need of physical connection, a most basic human desire, and perhaps carve out more time for exploration and new adventures. These are things we no longer take for granted. This pandemic experience will also leave a lasting impression on the future of work, redefining our expectations around work-life balance and the office-centric culture.
Work and Life Are Totally Blurred
We live in a 24/7 work lifestyle with no snooze button for emails, chats and texts. COVID-19 has taken this to a new extreme where our home life and our work life have become extrinsically commingled. We are not spending time commuting or traveling, but even with the presumed extra time during the day to be productive, it still feels like work-life balance has been thrown out the window. This question of how we can achieve balance has been a topic of ongoing conversation, but the pandemic is putting more pressure on us to solve it—fast.
As a start, we must learn to create a regimented schedule for ourselves and stick to it. It must be built with work priorities and personal priorities.
If you have kids or dogs, they often dictate that schedule. For those who don’t, you still need to take yourself for a walk, as my colleague so eloquently put it.
More important, we all need to work together to foster a culture that allows for a delineation between work and home. As a manager, you may have questions or requests late at night as you’re getting through your own inbox. Put those in drafts and send them in the morning.
The constant stream of communication can lead to anxiety, a lack of boundaries and, ultimately, a struggle to find work-life balance for your team, if not complete burnout. This doesn’t mean that people aren’t working past 6 pm. This just means that they need to have designated personal time that is treated as exactly that.
It’s our duty as leaders and managers to create these boundaries. That means that, if you’re checking off things on your to-do list at 10pm, set the expectation that although you’re clearing your mind, your team is not required to respond until the morning.
If we’re able to be intentional about our behavior and set the cultural tone now, then hopefully we can carry this over to the post-pandemic work environment and create a better sense of work-life balance.
The Future of Office Culture Is Flexible
It’s fair to say that we’re all proficient in effectively using Zoom by now. Even my non-techy parents are using it to host virtual game nights with their non-techy friends. Being on constant video calls has given us a window into our colleague’s private lives. We’ve seen children, pets, significant others occasionally jump into view or scream in the background. We can’t un-see or un-hear these interactions and the positive effect of this is that we realize that we’re all imperfect humans, including the CEO.
This new norm has thrown us into a trust-building exercise with our teams. The pandemic is forcing us to focus on productivity rather than hours clocked. As long as you’re present, engaged and accomplishing goals, it doesn’t matter where or when you’re getting it done.
Moving forward, this trend of game-time, not face-time will continue and traditional office-centric companies will have to be much more amenable to a flexible working environment. Instead of flying remote employees in for weekly meetings, more will provide equipment that allows them to efficiently work from home. The big upside is the savings on travel expenses.
The other byproduct of this is likely to be a more relaxed dress code. Most commercial real estate offices, particularly on the East Coast, still maintain a fairly conservative dress code and don’t allow jeans, sweatshirts, sneakers, flipflops, baseball caps and more. I have yet to see someone show up on camera in their pajamas, but people are definitely going more casual than business casual.
After months of watching our colleagues dress down, companies are likely to be more open to a relaxed attire. I mean, why not, it’s more comfortable and self-expressive right?
There Will Be a Lasting Impact
In this new blended environment of work and life, organizational teams should focus on perfecting the formula for work-life balance. We are getting to know our colleagues for who they are outside of the office and, hopefully, we can carry that culture back to the office (whenever it reopens) and be more human and empathetic. Lastly, your teams have adjusted to the life amid pandemic and they are figuring out how to get things done despite the challenges. Some are actually finding not being in the office makes balancing work and life easier. It’s the opportune time to examine your business and figure out if you can be equally productive with some of your employees working remotely. Perhaps it’s ok to rethink that bigger office space or reconfigure your current one?
About the Author
Khushbu Sikaria is a multifamily innovator and business strategist. She has been a thought-leader in real estate technology, growth strategy, brand, and consumer experience. She was most recently at an early-stage start-up in the flexible living space. Prior to that she spent almost nine years at Bozzuto, where she led Innovation & Product. She also held multiple other roles there, including the VP of Advisory Services, where she was integral to the growth of the management company.
Prior to joining Bozzuto, Khushbu founded an e-commerce retail business, worked at a branding agency and practiced law in Florida. Khushbu holds a JD/MBA from the University of Baltimore and a BS in Marketing from the University of Florida. Khushbu was awarded Multifamily Executive’s Rising Star award, highlighting her exceptional work in the industry. She can be reached at email@example.com.