Has work-life balance been replaced by work-life integration?

Posted on October 04, 2021 at 10:00 AM

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Work-life integration, as a term, has only come to the fore in the last two years. It seems that work-life balance’ has become perhaps even less possible than it was before – or it is simply an unhelpful concept? We take a closer look in our latest article.

The question on many of our lips right now is whether ‘work-life integration’ is the right way, and the necessary way for us to be thinking. Or, should we be focusing back on separation and seeking out the balance between our working life and everything else outside of it?

Not wanting to sit on the fence, but we suspect this will be an individual choice, with some people welcoming, benefitting from, and thriving on the opportunity to merge two worlds together, whereas others will be desperately seeking delineation again.

We are yet to fully understand the long-term mental and physical health impacts of isolation, inadequate workspaces, fear, disrupted education, anxiety and longer working hours on the current working population, let alone future ones.

Gianni de Fraja and fellow researchers point out that commuters spend a lot of money on “locally-consumed services” near their place of work: coffees, sandwiches, after-work drinks and meals, hairdressing, gyms, retail etc. However, if 50% of commuters to an area switch to homeworking two days a week, this means a 20% fall in potential demand for locally consumed services. In addition, de Fraja et al estimate that over 75% of jobs in the City of London and approximately half of jobs in Westminster, for example, could be done at home.

The need for a virtual commute?

Much of the research seems to suggest that a good number of us have traded the commute in to the workplace for extra working hours. Potentially, this gives us a few hours of our day back, every day. However, the reduction in travel, at the two ends of the day, and within it have raised expectations about what can be achieved in a working period. This does mean that we have lost the ‘cognitive white space’ and decompression that the commute offered.

Microsoft offer ‘Virtual Commute’. This is part of their platform that helps you to manage and organise yourself at the end of the day. However, this might be missing the point. It might help us be more productive, but it doesn’t help us switch off and make the transition from ‘work’ to ‘home’.

Many people have replaced the train journey with a walk, even if it is just round the block, but it’s easy for that to be subsumed into the working day because it’s not essential, it can ‘give’. It takes discipline, and also, preferably, decent weather.

This article from MDA Leadership provides some useful guidance on realising the benefits of a virtual commute, and explains why we need one.

Remote working has also offered organisations an opportunity to make significant progress towards their carbon net zero objectives, as people stop commuting in droves.

Many organisations have reported an increase in productivity, even the walk between floors from one meeting to another has been eliminated, meaning most of us have been able to fit a lot more meetings into our working day. OK, so more meetings does not necessarily mean greater productivity, but for those of us who run training courses, coach, or run assessments for a living, it does.

However, does it mean we take fewer breaks? Are we less effective? Do we get tired more quickly? A ‘quick chat’ is now more likely to mean an ‘MS Teams meeting’ and often without the forethought, preparation, agenda, and governance that meetings might usually benefit from.

Again, good meeting practices and a constant challenge to ourselves as to whether a phone call, or even meeting in person would be better, will help us to navigate hybrid working more effectively.

But be aware too, of the double-edged sword of video technologies. They are great for keeping in touch and feeling more connected with colleagues, and, during stay-at-home periods, with family and friends, but not so great in its contribution to increased meeting fatigue.

There have been very real benefits from the shift towards a more hybrid approach to work, and research has highlighted the upsides, and flagged the downsides that we need to be aware of. 

The challenge is for us to now maximise these benefits and put in place actions that limit the downsides.

Looking forward

You will be setting your own ‘next steps’ and determining your own priorities.

From the conversations we have been having with clients, the following keep bubbling up as being the priority areas for many HR and L&D communities:

  • Re-writing, not just tweaking or re-focusing on, People Strategies or Capability Plans.
  • Re-invigorating efforts in the areas of equity, diversity and inclusion.
  • Thinking about trust and how we demonstrate that as leaders and as organisations.
  • Working to help people be visible, to have impact and presence in the virtual world, as well as the face-to-face one.
  • Re-visiting our wellbeing strategies.
  • An increased drive for fairness, particularly in decisions such as promotion and succession.
  • Developing managers with dispersed leadership skills to adopt inclusive behaviours and meeting practices.

We need to help individuals find a way to balance or integrate their working from home lives with their life outside of work. Every leader, every team and every individual will be different.

If you’d like to learn more about how we are working with clients to help them make the most of virtual working, then contact us

 

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