Where do you sit on the spectrum of work-life blend? asks Maya Middlemiss
Research by Nancy Rothbard published in the Harvard Business Review, July 2020 framed the spectrum of preference for work-life blend as integrators versus segmentors.
It’s a useful lens through which to explore the importance of this boundary, as well as to understand why and how others you work with might see things totally differently, and cope in contrasting ways, particularly when you are working from home. It can also help you understand why other people – including people you work closely alongside – might experience things very differently.
What Are Your Preferences?
Basically, integrators love to mix things together, scramble the egg into a million hues of yellow and orange, and find few distinctions between work time/space/activities and the personal side of things. Segmentors, on the other hand, prefer to keep things clearly in their own spaces and not mix things up at all.
Which are you? Do you feel more strongly drawn to one of these brief descriptions than the other?
I would locate myself quite strongly on the ‘integrator’ side of the equation, and I am generally comfortable with blending life and work activities much of the time. Looking back to before I was self-employed, this makes sense for me as a long-term personality trait, as well as being somewhat inevitable in entrepreneurial life.
There are some personal times or situations where I construct clear boundaries and will not let work intrude, just as there are some work circumstances where I do my best to block out all interruptions from ’real life.’ For the most part, though, I am fine with a high degree of overlap. If you are reading this and thinking, ‘Yes, that’s me!’, we may well be fellow integrators. However, if you’re recoiling in horror at the sheer mixed-up messiness of all this, then you may be way more segmentor-ish than I am, though this is a spectrum rather than an either/or.
And difference is all it is.
Being a segmentor by nature is not a character flaw, and it can be a great asset – including, often, the ability to better switch off and disengage from difficulties at work, and in life generally. An integrator is more likely to worry over a problem in moments when they cannot do anything whatsoever about it, whereas a segmentor can better detach and maintain focus around what they are currently occupied with. Segmentors can be tremendously productive, and even if they prefer to bafflingly operate two different calendars or phones for life and work, they are still less likely to muddle them up or leave them somewhere than I am with just one.
Integrators who have high professional expectations of themselves, or have them imposed from elsewhere, might find it hard to log off and quit for the night. To impose a boundary of ‘done for now’ while their work Slack is binging away or emails are popping up on their phone during dinner can be particularly problematic.
A little self-knowledge can help you to analyse potential points of tension and consider tactics for reducing pain and stress by taking your known propensity into account. Wherever you find yourself on this spectrum, you will be happiest if you can bring your working style and habits into alignment with your needs.
Boundary Maintenance Tips for Segmentors
• If you feel better dressing for work, go for it! So long as you’re not uncomfortable, anything goes when working at home, and you should follow your own inclinations.
• If you feel awkward about over-sharing on video calls, think about rearranging and depersonalising your space. While many people love the windows into the lives of others that a view of a bookcase or artwork choice signifies, you have total control about what is within shot, because it’s your home. For a quick neutral option, grab a cheap folding room divider screen to literally segment off your space, as discussed above.
• Work in the same place at home, at the same time, using the same tools if you can, just to keep your boundaries clear.
• Make sure you are completely clear about the accountabilities and deliverables which define your daily work. Do whatever you can to reduce any ambiguities that might create uncertainty.
• Pre-empt interruptions during work time, negotiating with those with whom you share a home in advance if necessary.
• Even if your work is totally flexible, you might find it useful to block your schedule clearly in advance, constraining the times other people can book you for meetings, for example, and making certain everyone knows you finish and log off early on Thursday to take your kid to basketball.
• Ask your employer, or structure your self-employment, to keep your apps and tools distinct. Even if your employer operates a ‘bring your own device’ policy, it’s not unreasonable for them to provide something like a separate laptop for you to do your work on, for example. It’s a great deal easier for the IT department to control and secure it too. Or set up a separate virtual desktop if you need to use the same machine for different purposes.
• Choose the level of deliberate sharing and disclosure that YOU feel comfortable with at work, and don’t let anyone pressure you into feeling you have to bring personal stuff into the workplace if that isn’t within your comfort zone. Working remotely gives you total control over this aspect of your life.
Boundary Maintenance Tips for Integrators
• Get clear in your mind, and/or with your manager, what ‘done’ looks like on any given project or area of work.
• Ritualise your start and end to the day to give it some edges (see below). The ending is particularly important, because that is when the bulk of your personal time is likely to be enjoyed.
• Figure out some dealbreakers and state them, clearly and politely. I insist on scheduling calls with my West Coast clients during their morning only, not at their convenience through the day, which could wind up in the middle of the night here in Europe.
• Log out of, or manage alerts on, work-related apps and tools, especially if you know you will not be able to resist looking at them out of hours if they’re there to tempt you with those little red dots.
• Talk about communication plans and strategies with your colleagues, and even your family/housemates. What is urgent, what is important, what kind of communication is appropriate under what circumstances? Think about: “Kids, don’t interrupt me in the office if you can hear I am on a Zoom, unless it’s really urgent”; don’t do an @team Slack message out of hours, unless the server is down or there’s a big data breach… etc.
This article is an excerpt from Finding Your Edge: Establishing and Maintaining Boundaries When You Work from Home, Book 2 in the Healthy Happy Homeworking series.