Work-life Balance

A recent question posted on the Focus http://www.focus.com/about/about-us/ website got my attention. Caty Kobe, Community Manager for enterprise management topics at Focus asked: “How can busy business professionals achieve a true work life balance?” http://bit.ly/gxlhEY. Over the years, I’ve heard countless suggestions and tips and I am certain Caty’s question will evoke even more. As for me, I don’t have any tips to offer because I’m not a believer in work life balance.

Now don’t get me wrong. I do believe business professionals spend an inordinate amount of their lives working. Few of these people are working the 34.3 hour average work week of today’s private sector (according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t18.htm). I would bet most business professionals spend more than 40 hours at the office and additional hours working at home. I know many people who spend 60, 70, and even 80 hours working at their professions. These long hours cause a laundry list of physical and emotional issues, not only on the worker, but on their families as well. Many struggle to achieve work life balance as they try to tip the scale by lessening the weight of the work-side.

My problem with the notion of “work life balance” has to do with the word balance. Webster’s online dictionary definition of the word includes the following:

  • a : stability produced by even distribution of weight on each side of the vertical axis
  • b : equipoise between contrasting, opposing, or interacting elements

This subset of their definition provides insight into why I don’t like the idea of work-life balance. The term infers two forces are opposed to one another and they work against one another. This is a fair characterization as I know countless people who struggle with the “battle” between their work life and their personal life. This situation sets work up to be the enemy, even for people who love their jobs.

So I propose we stop seeking work-life balance and instead seek work-life integration. Integration is “a combination of parts or objects that work together well.” Integration eliminates the perspective of balance so the elements of work life and personal life are no longer compared or opposed to one another. Work-life integration is the attempt to combine our work-life with our personal-life so they “work together well.”

I have long had this perspective and it really paid off when I accepted my current position at CA Technologies. Evangelizing IT governance and PPM means I’m constantly on the road delivering presentations at events, conferences and individual enterprises around the world. This results in tons of travel and a lot of time away from my family. I work in my home office when I’m not traveling, but striking a balance between the time I spend “working” and the time I physically spend with my family is impossible. What is possible is for me to integrate my job with my personal life. This is how I do it:

Work when you are at home

If you want to integrate your work life and your personal life you have to be willing to work at home. This is tip is the reason some people will never accept the notion of work-life integration and will instead choose to continue to seek work-life balance. Their answer to work-life balance is to “never work when they’re home.” I think this will only be a few people because every business professional I know has to spend some time working from home. The trick is to do it at the times most conducive to circumstances specific to your personal life. Work on that report while your kids are busy doing homework or are otherwise engaged. Log on to email while your family is watching TV. I sit at the kitchen table with my laptop right in the middle of the comings and goings of my wife and kids. Sure, there are times when I need to be sequestered to work effectively but I can easily do some of my work with family stuff happening around me. And the pleasure of being around my family tempers the minor annoyance of excess noise or the occasional interruption.

Home office / Telecommuting

Set up a home office and telecommute as much as possible. This will not only increase the amount of time you spend at home, it eliminates the time and stress of commuting as well as your contribution to traffic and pollution. Working in your home office also allows you to continually flow back and forth between your work and your personal life. Some folks will disagree with this tip because they advise to “treat your home office like your work office.” For them, spouses, kids and pets are not allowed to interrupt and every personal distraction must be avoided. This may be good advice for people who have a hard time focusing, concentrating, or starting-and-stopping. I count myself lucky to not have any of these problems. I can stop working on a presentation to step away to help my daughter with her homework and dive right back in to PowerPoint ten minutes later without skipping a beat. Telecommuting makes it easy for me to get in twelve hours over the course of a full day and stay largely engaged with family goings-on.

High-speed reliable internet access

Working from home requires internet connectivity and you will go mad if it is not fast and reliable. Don’t even think about dial-up. Set up a nice 802.11n wireless network and add an extra access point if you have to. Make sure your network is fast.

Involve your family

My family has always been involved to some degree in each of my jobs. I’ve taken them to my office, introduced them to co-workers and talked to them about what I do. Now that I have a job requiring so much travel, I’ve stepped up their involvement. They review my presentations and proof-read my blog posts. I talk to them about that last PMI conference and the great article I just read. The more they know about my work, the less alien, intrusive and contrary it is to them and their lives. The more I share about my job the more they feel they are a part of it.

Skype

This will be particularly challenging for those corporate systems forbidding the use of Skype. It is the reason I carry a second personal non-work laptop. When I’m away from home all I need is wireless access or my broadband card and I can “see” my family. Our iMac sits in the kitchen and my family just leaves Skype up and running while I leave my personal computer on Skype. I work on my office laptop and all the while we can see and hear one another.

Tablet Computers

I currently use two laptops and the family iMac at home. I’m about to buy an iPad now that they have the front-facing camera (for Skype). The thing that is great about tablets is the quick start-up capability which greatly facilitates the stop-and-go nature of working from home. Tablets are also less isolating from your surroundings. Sitting at the breakfast table with my face in my laptop is much different than sitting on the couch with a tablet on my lap. The tablet configuration creates less of a barrier to the people around me.

These are the methods I use to integrate my work and personal life. I acknowledge much of my advice won’t necessarily help single folks because it is more germane to business professionals seeking to spend more time with their families. I also know work-life integration won’t work for everyone. Many people have jobs requiring them to be in the office where they’re constantly engaged with other team members. But for many of us, a good portion of our time is spent alone in front of our computer screens and there is no specific need to be sitting in our office.

Webster’s dictionary says integration is “the coordination of mental processes into a normal effective personality or with the individual’s environment.” We can exploit today’s remote, mobile and portable computing capabilities to “coordinate our mental work processes with our personal life environments.” We should stop trying (and failing) to balance our two lives (work and personal). Instead, let’s try to integrate them in one life.

Steve Romero, IT Governance Evangelist

Article source: CA ITGovernance Blog

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