Today the world is changing so fast, both at work and in our home life. Digitization is enabling us to be available 24/7 and the boundaries between work and personal time are constantly blurring. Hence, when I was planning the January 2018 event for Lean In Women In Tech India, instead of naming it Work-Life Balance, I thought I’d go with “Work-Life Integration” to highlight those blurring boundaries between work and life.
We invited Vidya Nagaraj, VP of Oracle India Pvt Ltd to give us an insight into work-life integration. From the early days of my career, I have always observed Vidya and seen her as a great Leader. She inspires me in many ways and having her as a speaker at the Lean In Women in Tech India (WiTI) launch at WalmartLabs was a great pleasure. Vidya’s talk highlighted some great thoughts explicitly focusing on our energy, managing our personal life, making the best of the digital world and enhancing our leadership skills.
I have summarized the talk and hope it will help everyone to build their own interesting work life integration platform to get best of their personal and work life.
Why is the shift to work-life integration essential and better than work-life balance?
Berkeley Haas School Of Business states that the traditional image of work life balance creates a sense of competition between the two worlds. Integration creates more synergies between all areas that define “life”: work, home/ family, community, social media, hobbies, personal well-being, and health. In the talk, Vidya explains this well; integration is something we need to create to achieve the best of both worlds.
Vidya started by pointing out that we are always feeling so stressed. “I’m not balancing work and life.” We feel that way because we “want it all”, therefore we end up juggling many priorities to achieve the balance.
Work today does not confine itself to office walls! Digitalization provides many opportunities to continue working — on the way home, after dinner have a conference call, work from home or work remote. Flexi-time working has also changed lives in a new way. Work is always with you!
Social media has enabled us to more easily and frequently connect with people. In the past, there were days when we used telephones to make trunk calls to communicate with people and waited for long hours to talk only for few minutes! Today we are always connected with people whom we know and whom we do not know.
Given all these factors — none guarantees us perfect integration. We need to manage all the entities. What that means is, we all apply different patterns to our lives as different entities and put it in a bucket called Life. We no longer manage work and life, but everything at once.
There are different ways to create the platform for work-life integration. There is no rule book. You can apply all your ideas and give things a new perspective. You know your life the best. Follow your own recipe to blend your personal and work life to get the best of it.
Plan the work and work the plan.
There is no shortcut to planning, be it project planning or life planning. I love the idea of creating a schedule of everything — dropping off kids at school, working lunch, conference call, dinner with your neighbor, spending time with your spouse, family and more. You organize your day, your way.
Vidya cites an example in her talk, during one of her meetings, her colleague who was presenting, moved the screen to her calendar which had “take kids for swimming,” and “buy groceries.” While her teammates found it funny, Vidya said, her colleague was the best version of herself when working on the schedule. Scheduling and following it makes the best for you and your time. We need to understand what is important to us. It’s okay to block your calendar, and it’s always good to let your family and team know about the schedule. We should always create good support system.
Family — Parents, in-laws, kids, and Spouse
Sometimes we may feel that our work is taking up all our time. We may feel we aren’t spending enough quality time with our family or spouse. I like the fact she mentioned spouse separately. Most of the time when we say family, we may think we include spouse, but unconsciously we exclude them. All families are not a nuclear family. We have our inlaws and parents living with us, and that can be great boon. However, when it comes to our personal time, it’s too easy to focus all our attention on our kids and in-laws and forget to spend equal time with our spouse.
Vidya shared a lovely story about her friend, who openly declared to her family and work colleagues that Wednesday night is date night with her husband. She made it a point that they go out for dinner every Wednesday night. She ensured her kids were with her in-laws or parents and asked them to support her goal. Make your plan public, even if it’s personal, and it could do wonders. Small things in life which we might take for granted can add significant value to our lives.
Every day is not a perfect day.
The work environment is challenging and everybody wants to move at a fast pace. People’s patience can run out fast! Technology has bombarded our life with choices that demand fast decisions.
While you’re working, if your child is not feeling well, it’s okay to let your team know and work from home. You can still work from home while taking care of your child if necessary. Sometimes it might be important to be at work due to customer engagement. In this scenario you might make the decision to go work and ask your family to help out at home. Do not go on a guilt trip; we need to do the best we can with what we have! Guilt management can be as essential as time management for women.
Don’t be afraid to make big, bold choices. As women we must be strong enough to lead in times of change.
The Myth Of Doing It All
Sheryl Sandberg starts in the Lean In Book that “Having it all” is best regarded as a myth. Instead of mulling over “Can I have it all,” we should ask ourselves “Can I do it all”. The answer is “NO”. Perfection is a recipe for disaster.
In the book, and the chapter entitled “The Myth of Doing it All”, Sheryl talks about women striving for unrealistic goals and comparisons.
“Like me, most of the women I know do a great job of worrying that we don’t measure up. We compare our efforts at work to those of our colleagues, usually men, who typically have far fewer responsibilities at home. Then we compare our efforts at home to those of mothers who dedicate themselves solely to their families.” (p.123, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg)
I appreciated the way Vidya drew our attention to the same concept and that one way we might achieve it is by asking for help. In India, it’s easy to get help from maids and family — if they live in the same city or are ready to help anytime. Just go for it and ask for help, don’t burn yourself out!
Marriage, family and children are a team sport, which means juggling with schedules and covering for each other when required. So it’s important we ask for and receive help. It’s not enough if you only get help from home, you should also ask at work. Of course never take advantage of the situation, always be authentic and truthful. You are the leader, and you need to invest in yourself.
Happy Mind, Happy Life
Harmony is possible when we are happy. Work is an integral part of life and we need to learn the necessary leadership skills that help us take on challenges. You are not a leader just because you have the job title, you’re the leader even before you get the title!
“To Be a Great Leader, First Become a Great Person.”
― Robin S. Sharma
We cannot afford not to face the challenge unprepared. The line we work in a company, the greater the expectations may grow. Our life journey and career journey are always in parallel. Clarity of thoughts and Communication is an energetic factor for me in my life. Both ‘C’s keep my mind happy.
You need to invest in yourself otherwise you may be overwhelmed. You need to recognize your skills — it can be tech, leadership, people management. Different people will have different requirements at various stages of life. Being aware of the skills required is essential and asking for help — training, coaching or mentorship — it can help you accomplish your career goals.
Robin Sharma, in the book ‘The Leader who had no title’ states:
“Work offers you a daily platform to discover the leader within. It’s a chance, every day, to reclaim more of the potential you’ve buried and to awaken the dormant relationship between the current you and your absolute best. It’s an opportunity to express more of your latent creativity and a whole lot more of your precious humanity. And presenting more of the genius and brilliance, you truly are to those around you so that, in you own special way, you help more people, is pretty much the main purpose of life. And that’s why I suggest that doing world-class work is also part of the central purpose of life.”
Manage your Energy
Personal energy is vital — both at work and in your own life. You cannot pour from an empty cup. Controlling all life‘s variables is impossible. It can be difficult to distinguish between the aspects of the job that are genuinely necessary and those that are not.
I struggle with a trade-off between work, community and home life on a daily basis. I would not say I have achieved perfect balance yet, but I’m a work in progress.
While Vidya was speaking about conserving energy, I recalled an earlier conversation with her when organising the meet-up. Vidya had agreed to speak at the event and as next steps we needed to get on a call to discuss and clarify any doubts. Both of us being busy women in the technology business, we struggled to find time to have this conversation! Each time we tried one of us ran into a conflict and we had to reschedule. What worked well for both of us in the end was our decision to use technology instead. I soon realized Vidya was comfortable working over emails which worked really well for both of us. We exchanged emails when we closed our day after late night calls. We clarified any doubts and set expectations about the event and, finally, I met her in person on the day of the event.
Two things happened beautifully — firstly we did not get worked up over the difficulty aligning our schedules and, secondly, we saved our energy and used technology to make progress.
Energy is at a premium — we need to use it widely along with the other tools we have in our lives. Health is a vital factor in life. We need to give enough time every day to focus on our health.
“What goes around come around”
I like to relate this quote to health. We need to eat healthily and if we can do that we conserve a lot of our energy. Our body expects healthy food and habits and if we cannot provide that, our body will eventually fail us. Healthy habits can vary from person to person, so focus on the activities that energize you.
Self Management — Managing Self
Self-reflection is about having clarity of mind. It’s easy in today’s world to get lost in the day, week, month and year. We can move so fast we fail to recognize our speed. It’s crucial you are in connection with yourself. I set time for myself for reflecting on my needs, goals and commitments.
Vidya gave an example of one manager who had lots of responsibility managing more than two projects and found herself drained at work, not able spend time with her family and her health was deteriorating. She was a smart person so she started self-reflecting on her work and the patterns of her choices. The insight she got was that she always wanted to be perfect and expected the same from her team which eventually led to her failure. She made a shift, which created a new journey and carved a path to happiness and success.
Instead of being a perfectionist, you need to focus on work which aligns with your company. It means a lot, and you don’t have to get 10/10. You can get 8 or 9 out of 10 too and that’s fine. You need to consider whether you have to be available for all meetings or only important meetings. If you are available for an important meeting, it will create an opportunity for your team to grow when they attend the other meetings.
The same goes at home, your kids will not require you always. You need to know when they need you and when they don’t. As parents, we rarely ask and decide what is important to them.You may be surprised, your kids might say they don’t want you to be at home and continuously help them with their homework. If you take small steps and ask people where they need your help, it’s always to mutual benefit.
As a parent, manager and leader, your expectations should be reasonable and not too high. Similarly, it’s also important to clarify what your manager expects from you. You might do this he/she does not care about so you’re wasting energy which you could use elsewhere.
We never take our whole self to work or back home. We need to be aware of the mental switch. We need to take our work self to work, keep our home-self at home and take our parent self to school. It’s a difficult line to draw, but it can be done consciously. It’s important not to drown yourself in what is happening at home when you’re at work.
It’s also important that you foster this culture if you have people reporting to you and ensure the expectation is communicated. Half of all problems are solved when communication is clear. It’s good to have high expectations, but declare your expectations clearly to your team. As a leader, you not only manage the team’s activities but mentor and coach them.
Act As If
If you are a leader, you need to create opportunities for your team. When you recognize that a team member has the potential to move up to next level, create opportunities and give them the chance to “act as if” they were at that next level. This will not only motivate them, but it gives you an opportunity to manage upwards. Operating at a higher level sends a message to upper management that you are acting like a good leader. It is your responsibility to build a culture of work-life integration for you and your team. You can do this by communicating clearly, helping them to achieve, and showing empathy. In doing so, you will show excellent leadership.
For all of us, career is important for different reasons. In the entire journey of balancing and integration, we need to recognize the flexibility available at home and at work, using it in moderation but to our advantage.
Achieving balance is better time management through making the right choices, setting proper boundaries and contributing what you can manage in the here and now. Integration means making the right choices and enjoying the benefits they bring.
Thanks to Walmart Labs to host the event for Lean In WiTI.
Thanks to Kim (Tocacar) for helping me edit the blog.