Forget about work-life balance – and find your work-life harmony

With more of us working from home for the foreseeable future, many people are struggling with maintaining what has been known as striking the right "work-life balance". Some experts advise that you should strive to set firm boundaries when working from home in terms of the time of day, office-like dress code, location and work setting in the home, and established work routine. Then, after working, closing the door and disconnecting. You could almost think of this as a binary approach; there is work, and then there is life, and they are separate things.

This approach to work-life balance may work well for some, especially those who are attracted to the idea of carrying over and emulating the ways of the traditional office when working from home. It seems there are some universal truths – in general people seem to want to be as productive as possible, meet and exceed the expectations of their job – but also stay sane and serve their family and personal needs in the process. New variations on the theme, like work-life synergy and work-life harmony, have been coined to reflect nuances on how people see work in the context of their life and family.

If you subscribe to the idea that work is something that gets done, as opposed to a time of day or place you go to, then a lot of new flexibility becomes accessible to work-at-home employees. Sure, there are requirements of scheduled meetings, and some have set shifts that are 100% "on" during set times of the day. Beyond that, however, many professionals and knowledge workers can look at how and when they most comfortable, creative, productive and able to thrive in meeting their job requirements. After all, it is about achieving the outcomes and getting things done. For many that are accustomed to home-based working, working whenever and however produces the required results might well be the best approach.

If you follow the topic of work-life balance on various social networks, blog comment feeds and related articles, you will notice some hotly debated points that come up, in particular in the areas of work-life balance vs. work-life harmony and integration.

So, after reviewing some of the passionate and lively online debates, I have paraphrased a few of the more thought-provoking positions, and have offered my own take on the issues.

1. Myth or reality: You should have a specific location, with a door, set up as your home office work location, and faithfully use that in a structured way in order to work effectively from home.

In my opinion, this is not really that important unless there are reasons to isolate yourself within your home environment to avoid chaos from intervening. In fact, during the course of the day, the type of work, the mood you are in – you may well feel more productive and comfortable working where, when, how (and in whatever clothes you feel like) at the time.

2. Myth or reality: You should not let work creep into your “life” – balance and separate them.

This strikes me as a myth, in that (hopefully) your work life and personal life are not so polarized as to be opposing forces in your life, in a win-lose kind of struggle for your time and energy.

Taking a step back, for example, the Buddhist principle of Righteous Living would say that we do for work is an integral part of our life (no matter what that work may be) and work should be in harmony with who we are and what we have to offer.

On the other hand, the ‘balance trumps integration’ argument holds some weight in certain cultures, in that they seek to keep their work and personal family life as separate as possible, even to the extent of legislating the boundaries in public policy. And in some jobs, the blending of time, location and focus that intertwines your work activities with the rest of your life is simply not possible or desirable given the type of work involved.

3. Myth or reality: Work-life harmony and integration can only exist if you really like your job.

Well, there may be some truth to this point, in that a fair number of contributors who clearly didn’t like their job wanted to keep it at a healthy mental distance –  forgetting it when they leave work and partitioning their mind, time and space to escape the workplace. It’s unfortunate but true.

But, this does beg the question, would more flexible and/or "anywhere" working allow those workers to see their jobs with more favor and as a more compatible part of their holistic life? Perhaps new management approaches and business culture could enable more flexible working, taking advantage of virtual teams and the new collaboration tools that make them successful.

4. Myth or reality: When your work and personal lives start blending and the borders get blurred, you become an "always-on" 7/24 slave to your job.

I was a bit surprised how many professionals strongly believe that without strict and defined boundaries between work and personal life, we will become enslaved as our work invades, encroaches, pollutes and otherwise unreasonably disrupts our overall quality of life.

In my opinion, this is a myth. One of the key values of work-life integration is flexibility – the ability to work where, when and how you are most productive, using the most effective tools to collaborate and communicate with your teammates, stakeholders, and customers.

Needless to say, "anywhere working" can be abused and mismanaged, but work-life harmony and integration does not have to imply that an employee loses control of their life – in fact, the newly found flexibility enhances control and quality of life.

Find out how we can help your distributed team

Atos has invested in many years of experience, innovation and expertise in home working and distributed teams through its acquisition of Unify in 2016. Many of our own teams have been distributed or home-based for years and our own understanding of how virtual teams tick helps to shape the communication and collaboration solutions that we provide to customers. Let us know if you need help deploying team communications and collaboration.

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About Ross Sedgewick

Digital Workplace and Team Collaboration Expert
Ross joined Unify in 2002 and has fulfilled several expert marketing roles in technologies for the digital workplace, team collaboration / customer contact solutions, and virtual team engagement. He currently handles content creation, messaging and insight development relating to the digital workplace. Ross is passionate about humanizing the intersection of people and technology, and understanding how users engage and interact. Prior to joining Unify, Ross has held marketing, product, channel and sales leadership positions at IBM Corporation, Delano Technologies, and Siemens Enterprise Communications.