The Borders Between Work and Home When Working From Home

At a time when many negotiators are working from home, it is important to reflect on how each member of our team is reacting to that experience.  We at Mobus Creative Negotiating search out the experts who have been studying how people behave in practice; we recognize that how we act can be based on our emotional reactions more than any rational calculation.  Nancy Rothbard, a management professor at Wharton, has long studied how professional and domestic lives interact.  She has found that people have a wide range of approaches, from the complete “integrators,” who don’t mind the dissolution of borders between work and domestic live, and “segmenters,” who want to keep the two realms totally separate (for a good summary of her work, see the New York Times article by Jennifer Senior, Farewell, Office. You Were the Last Boundary Between Work and Home).  Working at home is no big deal to an integrator, but it is hell for a segmenter.  Recognizing where your colleagues – or the people with whom you are negotiating — fall on that spectrum can give you powerful insight into how they are reacting and how you can best reach them.  A segmenter working from home is likely to want to treat the experience as much as possible like being in the office, so only reach out to them during regular business hours and dress as you would if you were calling on them at work. An integrator won’t mind if you are dressed informally and if your children can be heard playing in the background.

Rothbard has written about many aspects of life at work, for instance, about the pluses and minuses of being friends with your work colleagues.  We spend many hours at work, and many people find the social aspects of their jobs at important reason to show up every day.  But there can be downsides to having “friends without benefits,” as Rothbard put it in the title of one article.  Our job at work is not to be friends with our colleagues; it is to be productive for the company and ourselves.  As we at Mobus Creative Negotiating bring out in all our materials, in our daily life with our family and friends, we avoid conflict and try to get along, whereas in business negotiating, we are trying to get ahead even if that means pushing hard.  Remembering this distinction between social and business life can be particularly tough when everyone on both sides is carrying out business from home.  It is hard enough to shift from the social mode to the business mode when the two modes are being done in different locations, at different times, and in a different setting.  When everything is being done from home, and often in a jumble that is half-work and half-home life, keeping track of which approach is appropriate becomes particularly difficult.