On one hand, technology is allowing us to work more flexibly than ever before. On the other, it is enabling work to encroach on our personal life more and more. So is it helping or hindering our efforts to achieve the ever elusive work-life balance?
Work-life balance has been the subject of countless articles, podcasts and panel discussions. And yet, we're working more than ever before. One-third of Australians work an average of six hours unpaid overtime a week, with 39 per cent of professionals working an equivalent of at least an extra days’ work every week.
Flexible working arrangements are thought to help staff juggle work and life. Working from home allows staff to schedule hours around other responsibilities, like picking up children, and create time savings, like less time commuting. It is also thought to have a positive effect on job satisfaction and work autonomy.
In AirTasker’s 2016 Future of Work Survey, more than 72 per cent of respondents said they felt the traditional 9-5 model is inflexible for both present and future workers. And, for the first time in the survey’s history, flexibility overtook pay as the most important thing in a job.
Yet, paradoxically, working from home can also be bad for work/life balance. ABS data shows that 42 per cent of people who work from home do so to catch up on work, meaning they are often working overtime.
“‘How do you engage people when you never see them? How do you have boundaries between work-life and strike that balance?’" - Attendee at Friends of Portable Dinner
So, how can we embrace flexibility while maintaining barriers? One way is to be proactive about our downtime by scheduling time away from work and technology, and just focus on yourself. Google Dublin trialled ‘Dublin Goes Dark’, an initiative that asked all employees to hand in their technological devices before they left work. Their employees reported ‘blissful, stress free’ evenings (sounds good, right?).
Others suggest we rethink the concept of ‘balance’ and instead think about it as ‘integration’. That is, integrating work into our lives (or life into our work). This approach is about focusing less on when and where people work, as long as they get the job done. This might mean an employer takes work home or works on the weekend, but comes in late or has a longer break in the middle of the day to attend an appointment, spend time with their kids or exercise.
We'll be exploring these ideas further in our upcoming report, Redesigning Work. See below for details about the launch events we're hosting across the country in the coming weeks.