Is ‘work-life integration’ the new ‘work-life balance’?

By Carin Canale-Theakston

It’s been almost six months since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization. During these six months, our world has seen many novel events: The first pandemic in our collective lifetimes. The largest civil rights movement in history. Major school districts declaring they won’t return to in-person classes this fall. Moreover, a record-breaking 300 million Zoom calls are conducted in a day.

Business is certainly not as usual, and for many, this has been a time filled with added stress, fear, and exhaustion. According to a recent survey from published last month, more than two-thirds of remote workers said they’ve experienced burnout while working from home. For perspective, this figure is nearly 20% higher than that in a similar survey published in May.

But before we do return to business as usual, I hope at least one thing does remain from the COVID-19 era—the integration of our work lives with our personal lives.

Work-from-home life brings a rawness and humanity to our days—kids walking behind their parents to get something from the fridge, a phantom dog barking in the background, our eye moving to an interesting piece of art hung in the living room. I hope COVID-19 has as few implications on our world as possible, except for this. I hope we can maintain this same level of honesty, authenticity, and personability in our work lives once we return to “normal.”

I have always worked hard to build my career and my business around these core values, and I have always desired an environment that acknowledges team members as people first. Ultimately, I think this builds greater employer trust, eventually leading to enhanced productivity and a generally happier workforce. Time and time again the most successful organizations are those that prize transparency, flexibility, and openness throughout all levels. When we first transitioned to working from home at the beginning of the lockdown, I admittedly was worried about productivity. We are a professional services firm where our products are our people. But come to find out, our revenue numbers are as good as they have ever been these last six months—perhaps not despite work-from-home life, but because of it.

I was also worried about how our client relationships would be affected; in reality, they are stronger than ever. I actually “see” my clients more than I ever have these days (through Zoom, anyways), and I am learning more about who they are as people. Each day, I get a peek into their daily lives. Recently, I was on a Zoom call with a husband-and-wife client (who I also consider friends), and their son entered the background to join our conversation. Hearing his voice from the other room, my daughter of roughly the same age asked to join in as well. Before we knew it, our kids were talking in the middle of our meeting. I would have never known their son had it not been for this experience. Suddenly, our conversation took on a different level of depth and connection.

In a space where my client felt at home and at peace, the meeting took on a different dynamic: one that was more personable, relaxed, and natural.

Another example is a recent board meeting I attended, also on Zoom. At the beginning of the call, while others were still hopping on, one of the board members was in her backyard, showing us her recent gardening feats. In a pre-COVID-19 environment, while seated in a boardroom within a windowless office, I am certain we would not have had this conversation. But in a space where my client felt at home and at peace, the meeting took on a different dynamic: one that was more personable, relaxed, and natural. And the meeting was that much better because of that.

For the first time in a long time, I’m sleeping more, even though I’m not working less. Instead of the often-mad rush of getting my kids to school, followed by the even madder rush to the Southwest airport terminal for my frequent day trips to client meetings, I now have picked up an extra 30 minutes on my alarm (and I even have the time to squeeze in more morning workouts).

Yes, I do an average of five to six hours of video calls a day. And while it is tiresome, I’ve replaced the time I used to spend flying to meetings with lunch with my kids and work calls during walks with my dog. I’ve replaced trying to find balance with trying to find more integration.

Now that we’ve brought our offices home with us, it’s about enjoying our remote days while still getting our jobs done, whether that means virtual meetings with your kids or spending the day in the garden. The work-from-home burnout is real, but we can still find ways to make our new working environments (and lives) more honest, authentic, and personable.

Carin Canale-Theakston is CEO of CanaleComm, a California-based communications company that works with life science and digital health companies.

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