Even ultra-competitive NFL superstar quarterback Tom Brady can draw a line between his professional and personal life, taking a two-week break and opting out of two pre-season games. But many workers accustomed to a traditional 9-to-5 workday are finding the lines increasingly blurred as companies push work-life integration.
“Results matter more than punching a time clock,” states a Computerworld analysis of how technology and the lessons of the pandemic are changing work patterns. “The focus for many organizations now is on results — not how much time people spend achieving them… [The] traditional concept of a ‘work-life balance’ — either you’re working or you’re engaging in personal and social activities — is being replaced with ‘work-life integration.’”
Many knowledge workers equipped with mobile and collaborative technologies increasingly can work productively wherever their schedule takes them. Gartner surveyed 10,000 digital workers from the U.S., Europe, and Asia Pacific and concluded that “many employees proved during the pandemic that working in employer-controlled workspaces isn’t important to their productivity or engagement. Many see little reason to revert to old ways of working.”
A recent McKinsey survey found that 58% of U.S. workers have the opportunity to work from home one day per week and that 35% are able to do so five days each week. Furthermore, according to the survey, “when people have the chance to work flexibly, 87% of them take it.”
Work-life integration may make it easier for workers to deal with issues such as child-caring and personal or professional development, without having to worry about a boss keeping track of when they show up or leave the office.
In addition to cutting time commuting, workers can time-slice their days to focus on projects at times when they’re most productive.
“The challenge is how to manage the integration — how much control employees have to set their own workloads and schedules and how much remains with the employer,” Amy Loomis, research director for IDC’s worldwide Future of Work market research service, tells Computerworld.
Employers and workers together will have to explore, negotiate, and manage new ways of working. That may not always come naturally.
“Given that companies are still in the early stages of figuring out what work-life integration means, there are bound to be miscues or mistakes,” Computerworld observes. “The good news: most companies can weather mistakes so long as there are lines of open communication and corporate leaders are open to learning from mistakes.”
Such learning is critical for productive workforces. A Gallup report on the global workplace finds 60% of workers are emotionally detached at work, and 50% feel stressed at their jobs on a daily basis.
Work-life integration may help relieve such detachment and stress. But not if workers feel they can never shut off the work part of their activity.
“Knowledge work depends on optimal brain function, and optimal brain function depends on physical and emotional well-being,” writes Maura Thomas, a speaker and trainer on individual and corporate productivity and work-life balance. “We can’t get a fresh perspective from something we never step away from. Time away from work allows the opportunity to engage in activities that improve brain function, such as sleep, exercise, spiritual practices, and time with family and friends.”