Blending Work and Personal Time Successfully
You listen to a podcast on the way to work, where you meet with colleagues to catch up on an ongoing project. You check social media to see what your friends are doing for lunch, then spend a few hours putting together a report, before dashing away to pick up the kids from school.
Once the kids are settled, you eat an early dinner before prepping for a 9 p.m. conference call with an overseas client.
Working patterns like this are becoming increasingly common, as technology makes it easier for us to do our jobs from anywhere at any time.
Balancing work and life doesn't have to be a constant battle.
It looks like work-life balance, but it's actually work-life integration – a shift away from struggling to find a balance between the two, to finding ways to blend them instead.
What Is Work-Life Integration?
The rise of work-life integration is a natural product of changes in society. Among Millennials and Generation Z, there is an expectation that everyone should be connected all of the time. These generations are also more likely to favor employers who offer flexible working arrangements, and organizations have had to adapt to attract the best talent.
In contrast to work-life balance, work-life integration isn't about managing conflicting demands on your time and energy. It challenges the need to focus solely on productivity when you're at the office, and the aspiration to "leave work at work" at the end of the day.
Instead, work-life integration is about managing your schedule in a way that accommodates the ever-changing needs of your organization without forcing you to sacrifice the important things in your personal life.
The underlying theory, as discussed in the Harvard Business Review, is that allowing home, community and well-being into your work life, and vice versa, leads to increased satisfaction and success across all four of these domains.
How to Achieve Work-Life Integration
Your ability to achieve full work-life integration will likely depend on the degree of flexible working allowed by your organization. Be sure to check what policies and expectations are in place before you change how you work!
Then, ask yourself these three questions to assess how effectively your work and personal lives complement one another.
1. Where and When Am I Most Productive?
It may be that you get your best work done amid the buzz of a busy office. Or, you might be more productive when surrounded by the perfect silence of your own home.
If remote working isn't an option, think about the energy peaks and troughs that you experience over the course of a day. If you're at your best in the first few hours after you open your laptop, schedule important tasks for the morning in anticipation of the post-lunch slump.
2. Could I Make Better Use of Technology?
There have never been more ways for us to get things done and stay in touch online. Whether you're brainstorming ideas with colleagues or holding meetings with clients, applications like Google Docs, Slack and Skype allow you to take your office with you wherever you go.
From a business perspective, this helps you to be more responsive to customers and facilitates collaboration, but the same technology also empowers you to stay connected with friends and family while you're at work.
In a typical day, you might plan a night out with friends through social media, coordinate childcare via instant messaging, then respond to client emails that come in late in the evening.
3. How Do I Measure My Own Productivity?
Instead of focusing on the number of hours you spend working, try to think about how productive you're being during those hours. According to the Pareto Principle, most of us get 80 percent of our results from 20 percent of the work we do – so concentrate your efforts on that vital 20 percent.
For example, if you're deciding whether to go for a run in the afternoon or to power through your work and clock off at 5 p.m., think about which will yield the greater productivity. While taking a run might mean finishing work later, it will probably help you to clear your head and get more done. But remember that there will be some occasions when you'll need to miss that run to hit an important deadline!
Work-life integration can only be successful if you strike a balance between being connected and available to your organization, and the freedom that comes with flexible working. In other words, while you need some boundaries to guard against being "always on," you still have to fulfill your obligations to your organization.
How Organizations Can Support Work-Life Integration
Work-life integration requires buy-in from both individuals and their managers or organizations. It's a two-way street: if people are willing to devote time outside traditional office hours to the needs of the organization, then managers will need to accept and allow personal needs being catered for during regular "nine-to-five" hours.
Other ways managers can support work-life integration include:
- Being flexible about working hours. The approach won't work if you insist that your people work set hours. That may be unavoidable in some roles or professions, but if your business is able to offer flexible working times, then do so.
- Setting boundaries. Work-life integration does not give managers the right to call on staff 24/7. Be sure to reassure team members that the approach will not be abused.
- Providing the right tech. If people will be working remotely, they'll need the kit to do so. Allow your team members to take laptops or other appropriate equipment home or out of the workplace, with appropriate safeguards.
Of course, there are organizations where work-life integration may be impractical for a variety of reasons. Under such circumstances, the principles of work-life balance apply.
Work-life integration is an extension of the traditional work-life balance approach. Instead of there being conflict between the two areas, work-life integration seeks to unify them in a way that supports both.
For the individual, it means managing a schedule that meets your own needs and that of your organization.
For organizations, it means being flexible, respecting boundaries, and providing the appropriate tech and support.
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