Work-life balance is hard for all of us, but it’s arguably the hardest for those who are responsible for keeping a company afloat in a pandemic.
How do you tell someone who has to make last-minute staff resizing decisions to practice self care? How do you tell a quickly burning-out small business owner to simply “switch off after work,” after answering a long and horrible call with a rude customer, just minutes before 5 p.m.?
And how do you tell a small business owner this, while they’re working remotely for the first time, stuck between a toddler’s tantrum and a schedule filled with conference calls?
Conversations around remote work and work-life balance tend to focus on it from a typical employee’s point of view. But when it comes to company leaders, the same advice falls short. It’s often taken for granted that workaholism is part of the entrepreneur’s deal.
According to a 2018 survey by GetResponse, 91% of small-to-medium-sized business (SMB) marketers say they work weekends, while 69.3% take business calls and check email in their free time. A quarter (25.9%) are always thinking about or working on their business—and like it that way.1
While working from home indisputably increases productivity,2 research also shows a concerning uptick in mental health concerns like loneliness, burnout, and disconnection.3 The habits we just outlined would probably increase anybody’s propensity for burnout.
But it would seem that company leaders are most at risk.
In this article, we’ll cover seven ways company leaders can reclaim some semblance of work-life balance with their unique challenges—all while working from home:
- Master transitions
- Schedule everything—including self-care
- Manage your mindset
- Team up with your family
- Have a life outside of work
- Encourage transparency
- Embrace uncertainty
Want more WFH tips? Download the Remote Work Task Checklist.
1. Master transitions
As exhausting as long home-office commutes can be, they do serve an important purpose.
They help you transition between roles, from Department Head during the day to Parent of Twins in the evening. These “transitions” are defined as the psychological (and, where relevant, physical) movement between roles, including disengagement from one role (role exit) and engagement in another (role entry).4
If you’re managing a small business, you wear dozens of hats at work and probably don’t take all of them off when you “come home.” Have a ritual that helps you transition between work and home life. It can be anything that makes sense to you. Here are some ideas:
- Have a separate mobile phone for work, and switch it off after your office hours. Or, a more cost-effective solution is to have a communication platform on your phone that lets you make calls—without giving away your personal cell number. This way, you can just turn off the notifications for that app when you’re off the clock. For example, RingCentral’s mobile app does this exact thing—and even has team messaging and video conferencing convenient in the same app:
- Wear at least one item of clothing that’s work-appropriate, and take it off after office hours. This could be a pair of leather shoes or a blazer. It might seem slightly ridiculous to wear leather shoes with your pizza-print boxers, but who can tell on your video conference call?
- Brew the coffee you like to order on your way to work, and take a stroll around the block with it.
2. Schedule everything—including self-care
A large part of the stress in “work from home” comes from the “home” bit. You might have to leave an online meeting abruptly because the plumber arrived a few minutes early. (Speaking of which, learn how to have better meetings in this guide.) Your toddler might trip and fall just as you pick up the phone.
And then, there’s entrepreneur’s guilt, that feeling you get that comes with running your own business. You feel you aren’t doing enough for your business, you aren’t spending enough time with your loved ones, or you simply aren’t… enough.
The solution? Scheduling.
There are things you simply can’t schedule (like your child needing an emergency trip to the doctor). But there are many others that you can, such as time for taking a coffee break, watering your plants, or finishing up a mountain of paperwork you’ve been putting off. Most important, do-not-disturb time blocks for deep work, essential to productivity.
There’s a catch though. To schedule successfully, you’ll need a grasp on another all-important technique—prioritization. Instead of saying “I don’t have time for this,” try saying “This task is not a priority for me right now.”
Schedule everything, and set reminders, especially for those bothersome but small “5-min” tasks like making a quick call to clarify something with a vendor… they all add up eventually.
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3. Manage your mindset
How do business owners relate to their work?
In a study of 326 US-based members of Business Networking International (BNI), entrepreneurs were asked questions about their level of passion, job fit, and more.5
How they related to their job affected how likely they were to experience burnout. The study identified two types of passion: harmonious and obsessive.
Obsessive passion is where a job is important to someone because of the status, money, or other rewards that it brings. Harmonious passion means someone is motivated by the job because it brings them satisfaction and is an important part of who they are.6
Business owners who reported high scores of obsessive passion reported feeling more emotionally drained, anxious, and stressed. They were also more likely to say they experienced burnout.
On the contrary, those who reported high scores of harmonious passion were able to balance their job with other activities in their lives without experiencing conflict, guilt, or negative effects when not engaging in work.
What does your role mean to you? What parts of it do you find fulfilling? Do you need a career switch?
Here’s a quick clip from our Remote Work Masterclass on how to manage a remote team:
4. Team up with your family
A lot of the contributors to stress at work have to do with “roles.”7 There’s role overload, which happens when a person can’t meet all their role-derived expectations (like when solopreneurs suddenly find themselves unable to manage a growing team); role ambiguity (when a person feels that they’re not sure what is expected of them); and finally, one that’s not entirely related to work, but shows up a lot while working from home: role conflict.
Role conflict arises when your performance in a role conflicts with another role you have. For example, your roles as a parent and a business owner conflict when your kid wants to play with you, but you have an important virtual meeting with a customer to sign a deal.
These three factors, along with the constant need to assess and exploit opportunities, contribute to role stress.8
While you can address much of role ambiguity and overload with good team productivity habits and communication techniques, having an understanding with your family is indispensable to addressing role conflict issues that flare up while someone is working from home.
If your partner also works from home, have a chat on Sundays to divide household responsibilities and schedules for the week ahead. Where possible, have separate workstations so that you can each have your own space. Keep your family members in the loop about what the week is going to be like and support one another by holding “Do Not Disturb” hours as sacrosanct.
Use the “Do Not Disturb” feature on your RingCentral app to avoid distracting calls when you really need to focus.
5. Have a life outside of work
All work and no play makes Jack a dull, burned out, disengaged, and underperforming business owner.9
In the 12-stage model of burnout by psychologists Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North,10 withdrawal from social life is at stage seven—just two steps before depersonalization, a serious state of psychological detachment in which one’s thoughts and feelings seem unreal or not to belong to oneself.
It’s critically important to always make time for a social life. Try to keep the social commitments that give you joy.
There’s no need to jump straight to hosting elaborate dinner parties. Start small. Make a quick phone call to an old friend, or catch up over a chilled beer with a new one. Make as little or as much time as you want. Just remember to schedule it.
6. Encourage transparency among your team
Work-life balance is a universal struggle for most remote workers, including your employees. It was estimated in 2015 that work stress contributes to 8% of national spending on healthcare.11
Have frank and honest conversations with your team members and introduce work-from-home policies that encourage your team to lead fulfilling personal as well as professional lives. This allows you to develop a supportive remote work culture that encourages employee engagement and boosts employee morale.
You could do this by encouraging initiatives like virtual coffees or game nights. These activities allow everyone to blow off some steam together, while getting some crucial bonding time that remote workers often miss.
7. Embrace uncertainty
A balanced life for an entrepreneur isn’t meant to look the same week to week. Expecting it to be so, with the curveballs that entrepreneurial life is notorious for, is a recipe for disappointment.
In the volatile world of growing small businesses, work-life balance isn’t a static state. Rather, it’s an ever-shifting scale that you constantly need to make adjustments to as you go along.
One week, you might be packed to the brim with meetings. Another, your schedule might be completely empty, leaving you with tons of time to spend with your family, or maybe go hiking. That’s part of the fun of being an entrepreneur.
The same study mentioned in the earlier paragraphs investigating passion, also threw up an important insight: those who had a flexible mindset were less likely to burnout than those who had rigid ideas about how their careers should be.12
Why company leaders need to pay attention to work-life balance while working from home
Work-life balance means different things for different people. Some entrepreneurs immerse themselves wholly into their businesses, gaining meaning from even the most mundane aspects of their job. Much like artists, they find themselves in their work.
But that’s not all of us. Most of us choose to lead a team or start a business because of the flexibility and autonomy that come along with it. It’s terribly difficult to manage yourself as well as a company, but it’s also extremely satisfying.
In what other career can you clear your schedule at will without having to answer to a boss? This is both the greatest and the toughest thing about working from home as an entrepreneur.
Use these tips to manage this freedom while steering your team.
Originally published Jun 24, 2020, updated Jun 24, 2021