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Respect Colleagues’ Different Work-at-Home Systems

People responded differently to work-at-home orders, which can cause problems if it’s not understood. Segmenters stick to their old schedule as integrators work 24/7.

ORLANDO, Fla. – When it comes to working from home, we’re not all in the same boat. Some people are in Navy aircraft carriers filled with routine and order, while others are on luxury yachts doing whatever seems most important at the time.

Some people are segmenters and some are integrators, according to Brian Swider, an assistant professor of management in the University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business.

When the pandemic hit and more people started working from home, they each created a system to make it work. However, two different systems have sometimes created conflicts when an integrator, for example, doesn’t adhere to a segmenter’s schedule.

Segmenters try their best to duplicate their office routine and schedule, so they have a clear distinction between work-time and personal-time. Many actually prefer working in an office.

Integrators draw few lines between work and off-time, easily moving from calling clients to fixing dinner to calling clients again.

Swider says neither style is wrong, though everyone needs time away from their job to perform at their best. He considers himself a segmenter.

“Even the most integrated workers need detachment from their jobs,” he says in a UF blog. “Being able to recover away from work is beneficial, and that’s so much harder when work is in your home. It’s important to take that time to separate, but how you do that while working from home is going to be different for everyone.”

Swider cites a 2019 analysis of 198 studies he and colleagues performed. They found that sufficient recovery time led to better production. He also says it leads to better sleep, less fatigue and even an improved sense of wellbeing and life satisfaction.

Since segments want a clear division between work and personal time, Swider recommends they try to do that by creating a schedule, which is easier when you go into an office but harder as the tasks and even family members intrude at home.

Swider’s advice for segmenters

  • Simulate a commute. “If you used your commute to switch from your work self to your home self, can you establish a quasi-commute? Can you take a walk for 20 minutes?” he asks. “Look for ways to replicate that separation ritual.”
  • Separate work tech and home tech. Swider turns off his work computer at the end of his scheduled day and switches to his home computer.
  • Set effective limits. Work can still sometimes intrude on personal time, so Swider suggests creating some rules, likely based on the importance of an off-hours work task. “I won’t answer emails after work hours unless I know the person or it’s time sensitive,” he says.

Swider’s advice for integrators

  • Go “phone only” after hours. Since integrators don’t naturally stop working, behavioral rules might help. A personal rule, for example, might be to answer only short emails that arrive via phone – but postpone involved tasks unless they’re time sensitive and important. “If you’re like a fly to bug zapper with your work computer, turn it off,” he says. “Shut down and treat it as if you left it at office. If it can’t be handled on the phone, it can wait until morning.”
  • Prioritize. “If you have a job where there are consistent demands after hours, set boundaries for which tasks you need to deal with immediately,” he says.
  • Make specific goals. Vaguely promising yourself that you’ll cut back isn’t a great strategy, Swider says, mainly because it doesn’t usually work. He suggests you measure after-work activity, such as “I’m only going to work for an hour after dinner” or “I’ll only address five emails after 5 p.m.”

“Some people are going to struggle with it. No one’s going to be perfect,” Swider says. “But the closer you can replicate your pre-COVID routine, the closer you get to feeling more normal.”

Source: University of Florida News, Alisson Clark, July 22, 2020

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