2020 has been a relationship resilience test. On 23 March, almost literally overnight, our working relationships went entirely virtual, and our living relationships got pretty full-on.
Living At Work
Like 30% of respondents to our first-ever State of the Nation: The New Work Mindset Report, I live with housemates, and like 37% I also live with my partner. Confined to the walls of our tiny flat would we pass the lockdown test, or descend into the kind of hostility last seen on Big Brother Series 5?
This period was inevitably going to change our relationships with the people we live with. Our cohabitors went from being just a part of our multi-faceted, busy lives, to the ones we spend the majority of our waking hours with. I’m very lucky that I live with some of my favourite people in the world. Our lives looked different in lockdown but we kept it fun – we made cocktails, played lots of cards, and my housemate would turn his room into a club on the weekends.
We navigated the lows together, kept each other smiling during a weird time and ended up closer than ever. And, I wasn’t alone in becoming closer with the people I live with. 40% of those surveyed agree that their relationship with those they live with has improved. We’re a lucky bunch.
But what happens now? Although restrictions started lifting in June, working from home has stood the test of time. For the vast majority of people surveyed (89%), their future will now include regular working from home. We’re in it for the long-haul.
Working from home can produce some tricky relationship obstacles, especially in cities like London where we often live on top of each other. Have you ever presented on Zoom when your partner enters the room donned in only a towel? Had a difficult conversation when your Mum shouts at you to hang your washing up? Spoken with a client while your housemate makes a three-course lunch… loudly? These scenarios will have had many of us crying out for the office and our lovely, considerate colleagues.
Setting boundaries has become essential to keeping our relationship strong. A couple of months in and we know to communicate our schedules and needs ahead of time… and that the living room is a nudity-free zone.
Working From Home
More than just avoiding embarrassing Zoom situations, there’s a huge amount to gain from close relationships with our colleagues. When you enter a workplace you’re surrounded by people from different age groups and walks of life. People whose experience and perspectives you can learn from. Many of my closest friends I met at work and I couldn’t imagine life without them. There’s nothing better than a conversation over lunch with your work friends that leaves you cracking up at your desk for hours afterward.
Yet, something isn’t connecting in the digital world of work. 40% of people we surveyed feel their relationship with colleagues has become worse since working from home during lockdown. Zoom, despite its efforts, hasn’t quite lived up to the joy of IRL conversation. There’s something about speaking to a screen that prevents you from bringing your authentic self. It can be transactional and unsatisfying at best, awkward, and unproductive at worst.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Let’s use this opportunity to connect with our colleagues in a more meaningful way. Forget small talk at the start of meetings, we need to make the effort and schedule work-free conversation. Turn those cameras off, pick the telephone up, meet for walking breaks together, and ask the questions that matter. It’s time for authenticity to make a come-back.
We know that we’ll now be mixing working from home and the office as a minimum, so maybe the key to nurturing both our home and working relationships is acceptance? I’ve never been annoyed by a colleague’s dodgy wifi and I think we need to be easier on ourselves (and our housemates) about perfecting professionalism at home. From the other side of the screen, every toddler or cat that strides into a meeting helps me to see my colleagues in a new light. Getting a glimpse into the quirks of ‘real-life’ outside work mode only has the potential to elevate our relationships. We should embrace it.
We surveyed over 200 founders, entrepreneurs and startup talent on lockdown and the almost-overnight move to working from home. Screenburn, loneliness and productivity: it’s all there. Download The New Work Mindset Report here.