With the advances in technology and the push for remote work, it feels as if our work and life balance is becoming increasingly blended day by day. Work emails can be sent straight to our personal smartphones, work can be completed from anywhere thanks to laptops, and the modern office is no longer a simple 9-to-5 setup. How has our life adapted to this very rapid shift in technology and flexibility?
Although some of us may have adapted to a more flexible work schedule, much of the working world is still cautious of change. Companies that are embracing the evolving culture of the office are creating new trends to how people balance their work and home life. What does this mean for the modern office, and what does it mean for employee and company productivity? Let’s find out…
Increased Emphasis on Time Off
Businesses no longer reward those that put in the extra time (and thus strain themselves physically and mentally) to get projects done. Instead, there is an emphasis on leaving work when you’re supposed to and taking enough breaks as well as using up your vacation time.
In fact, businesses are actively encouraging their employees to take breaks during the day as a way to combat disengagement. QNNect author, Tony Boatman, notes in his infographic on Productivity Statistics that “top performers tend to work for 52 minutes at a time, followed by a 17-minute break.” Taking a break is one of the most important aspects of staying productive at work, as it allows you a chance to step back from your work and re-energize. According to an article by the University of Alabama:
“Breaks give your mind a few moments to wander, which is critical to creative problem solving. Breaks also give you time to nourish your body, and to move around, which pumps more oxygen to your brain cells. The best breaks include a reasonably sized healthy meal or snack and a brisk walk or other physical activity. Studies show that just 10 minutes per day of moderate exercise can improve heart function as well as improve your mental power and emotional outlook.”
As for vacations, they allow employees a chance to truly and fully unwind from their jobs, and can potentially ward off serious symptoms of burnout and chronic stress. Stepping away for a week or two provides our bodies with the opportunity to destress; which has both physical and mental benefits.
Although many employers might be hesitant to allow more time off for their employees, the businesses that are embracing it are seeing a rise in engagement and profits. It’s not just us here at Think Productive North America – Google, Intuit, Salesforce, and other top tech companies are leading the way for paid 12-week maternity and paternity leave, compressed (four day) work weeks, and mandatory vacation times. They understand that time off is important to the health of their employees, and thus the health of their company as well.
Remote work has become all the rage in the past year or so, and it’s only going to get more prominent in the working world. It isn’t for everybody, but for those that crave a bit of freedom, it is the best possible career decision. In terms of how this trend is improving productivity and a balanced blend between work and life, Tony Boatman with QNNect notes in their research that: “Remote employees tend to be 13 percent more efficient than those that work exclusively in the office.” This result could be due to the lack of pressure that remote work puts on its employees. It could also be that working remotely — with an unconventional schedule — allows people to allocate their time as it works for them – with breaks fitting their own preferences.
The Training Journal began a survey in August of 2016 that looked at current work-life balance trends, and an early survey answer expanded on the importance of remote work for employees. They report:
“It is already becoming clear from early participants in the study that many feel that higher levels of flexible working would help with their work-life blend. Asked ‘What could organisations do to help employees achieve a better work-life blend?’ one respondent, whose response was typical, said: ‘Be more open to flexible working (part-time; job shares; 13-day fortnights; work from home; increase holiday entitlement — such as Virgin HQ — unlimited so long as work gets done & customers/colleagues not adversely impacted). Limit expectations on people to work outside of normal working hours (including during annual leave, weekends, late in the evening)’.”
Of course, flexible work schedules are especially helpful to parents, who often have to balance raising a child with a busy 35-50 hour work week. Working on a more flexible schedule gives parents the opportunity to save on external childcare as help lower the pressure to be in two places at the same time.
Allowing employees to work on a more flexible work schedule doesn’t just help them, but the company as well. Sometimes getting into a state of “flow” (when your mind is “in the zone” and you can fully focus on a task) can be difficult, and doesn’t always match up with a typical 9-to-5 schedule. When employees can clock in at their leisure, they can tap into their state of flow when it comes to them. Employees are less likely to suffer from burnout, and employers will see better results. No wonder freelancers are slowly taking over the workforce; they have the ability to choose the schedule that works best for them, and businesses receive high-quality work that saves them money. It’s a win-win for everyone.
Out of all these new adaptations to the work-life balance, it has become increasingly apparent just how influential the millennial generation has been on workplace culture. Although other generations have no doubt had an influence on the evolution of the office space, millennials have fully embraced the technology boom of the early 2000s and have helped integrate its benefits into our everyday lives.
Their thirst for independence has fueled the gig economy and workplace flexibility. Boatman also mentions millennials in his research with QNNect: “59 percent of millennial workers believe more flexibility would improve their output and productivity.” Their constant desire to connect and communicate has also improved much of the way managers communicate with their team and enhanced overall feedback and collaboration.
On the flip-side, however, the millennial drive to work on their own terms has created a unique challenge for HR leaders, who are suddenly trying to reign in the “workaholic” generation. Millennials might be making life more flexible, but they’re still struggling to “clock out” mentally at the end of the day. Luckily, it’s a problem that can easily be stymied by mandatory weekends or vacations and an increased emphasis on mental and physical well-being.
Although it might feel like our work and personal lives are becoming more blended, it is just evolving with the needs of the current age. Work is no longer taking up a chunk of our day, and stressing us out. Businesses are becoming more aware of the need to take time off, and allow necessary break times for employees. Additionally, millennials are encouraging communication, collaboration, and slowly blending the best parts of their work and personal life together.
Work and life balancing trends will continue to change over the next decade, but 2017 could be a turning point for many businesses. As remote work and productivity continues to pick up, who knows what the next few years could hold for us as we move forward with a stronger embrace on technology and flexibility.
By Katie McBeth
Katie McBeth is a freelance writer out of Boise, ID. She enjoys reading teen novels, eating mac ‘n cheese, and attending indie concerts in small bars. Her love for reading is only trumped by her love for cats, of which she has three. She also has a dog, and he helps keep her grounded. You can follow her animal and writing adventures on Instagram or Twitter: @ktmcbeth