When everyone worked in a brick and mortar office, we were either “at work” or we were not “at work.” For most of us, not being “at work” meant we weren’t working. This view set up a strict dichotomy between work and the rest of our lives.
But times have changed.
Thanks in part to technology—namely, the internet—work can now be done from nearly anywhere, and long commutes that chip away at family time are a thing of the past. But the tool that keeps us connected from afar can also make it harder for us to disconnect, and remote professionals often find themselves struggling to unplug at the end of the day.
With the lines between work and home life blurred, even professionals with the best time management skills often find it hard to strike a balance. Part of that difficulty stems from unrealistic expectations.
Indeed, the idea of balance implies an equal and opposite focus on two tasks; you are either doing one or the other, with little to no overlap. But such a strict balance between work and personal life can be hard, if not impossible, to maintain, especially in the long-term.
For this reason, many remote workers are shying away from attempts to achieve a work-life balance and turning instead to a new, more holistic approach known as work-life integration.
What Is Work-Life Integration?
While it may seem like a new concept, the term “work-life integration” has actually been used for decades to describe a framework of thought that prioritizes flexibility and recognizes that having a career doesn’t have to mean sacrificing your personal life. Writing in a May article for The Conversation, a pair of lecturers from the Swinburne University of Technology in Australia said integration shouldn’t be “about trade-offs, but synergies.”
The lecturers pointed to a widely cited quote from organizational researchers Jeffery Greenhaus and Saroj Parasuraman, who said in 1994 that integration happens “when attitudes in one role positively spill over into another role, or when experiences in one role serve as resources that enrich another role in one’s life.” Practically speaking, this means that professionals allow their work tasks and personal tasks to blend together and inform each other.
What Are the Benefits of Work-Life Integration for Remote Workers?
It’s easy to see that taking this approach to remote work has a number of benefits for telecommuters who want to ensure they’re meeting their obligations in all areas of their life, whether that’s at home with family or in the digital workplace. For one, remote professionals who seek to integrate their home and work lives rather than hold themselves to a strict balance enjoy the ability to do what they need to do when they need to do it.
Indeed, at its forefront, work-life integration is all about flexibility—and that doesn’t just refer to location. If your boss allows you to work at your own pace or on a flexible schedule, you can arrange your work hours to ensure your personal commitments are being met, too. As remote work grows in popularity, more and more employers are taking a flexible approach in hopes of attracting and retaining qualified employees, meaning that more and more remote professionals are getting the opportunity to customize their lives however makes the most sense for them and their loved ones.
Remote workers may also find that viewing the divide between their work and home lives as a project of integration rather than trade-offs is just more practical. The fact is that a stable, even balance is never going to be achieved in the long-term. With our fast-paced lives and ever-changing priorities, clocking in at 9 a.m. and out at 5 p.m. simply isn’t possible every day—and striving for an ideal that can never be met is a recipe for discouragement and guilt. By contrast, when we are realistic and able to shift our tasks and reprioritize our days depending on what’s happening at work and at home, we’re building adaptability and resiliency into our schedules (and ensuring that a Wednesday morning doctor’s appointment won’t throw off the whole week).
How to Apply Work-Life Integration In Your Day
The key to making work-life integration work for you is implementing proven strategies—and some concrete ground rules—to help ensure all areas of your life are getting the attention they deserve. Get started with these four tips:
1. Develop a realistic and inclusive schedule. Gone are the daily to-do lists that only include work meetings and project deadlines. When planning for the week ahead, etch out all of your priorities, from your 6 a.m. yoga routine to lunch with the kids to your after-dinner family bike ride. This strategy allows you to plan and prioritize all the tasks you need to complete—whether it’s sending an email to a client or meal-prepping for the week ahead—however works best for you, helping you keep track of your commitments and manage your time to ensure neither your personal obligations nor your work responsibilities are being put on the back burner.
2. Schedule time in blocks. Whenever possible, avoid jumping from task to task. Try to schedule work in two-hour blocks to allow enough time to truly focus on each project at hand—but don’t forget to include breaks! The Pomodoro technique advises working for 25 minutes and then taking a five-minute break to optimize your productivity.
3. Don’t forget to coordinate. Coordinating your schedule with other members of your household as well as other members of your work team will go a long way to both ensure everyone is on the same page and avoid having to do double-duty with your time.
4. Establish boundaries. The best way to prevent scope creep when integrating your work and life tasks is to set a few ground rules and stick to them. Your managers know you’re human and expect you to have to unplug and rest your mind. Make sure to set aside time in your schedule for what is most important to you.
The Bottom Line
Applying a framework of work-life integration to your life will help you reduce stress and contribute to making your days feel richer and more purposeful overall. With a little planning, following this model will allow you to take advantage of the flexibility offered in today’s working world to meet your changing priorities and feel fulfilled both at work and at home.