Today’s technology-driven world provides many opportunities for people to remain connected to family, friends, and increasingly, to work. This mentality is referred to as work-life integration. The concept of work-life integration is driving major shifts in the workplace as employees carry their expectation of continual connectivity to their jobs. For some employees, utilizing technology to blend together their personal and professional lives is seen as a positive step toward innovation; for others, it’s seen as an unwelcomed breaching of their personal lives. Despite the polarized reaction, today’s always-connected mentality means unified communication (UC) technology could potentially play a major role in helping achieve better work-life balance.
Defining Work-Life Balance and Work-Life Integration
Before diving too deep, it’s important to define the differences between work-life balance and work-life integration. This is important because work-life balance and work-life integration are often conflated. Work-life balance is generally associated with being able to separate professional and personal life, treating each as an entirely separate entity. The word balance implies finding compromise between two unlike things. Work-life integration, on the other hand, is generally associated with working more hours, or constantly being at the beck and call of your employer. The word integration implies blending or combining two similar things.
While these two concepts have many overlapping qualities, these nuanced distinctions are critical for establishing a conversation about the potential for UC technology to help employees achieve better work-life integration, which can lead to better work-life balance.
Modern Workplace Expectations
The younger, millennial workforce is shifting workplace values. As digital natives, millennials are the driving force behind the always-connected mindset. Additionally, millennials, on average, would rather take a massive pay cut than sacrifice a healthy compromise between their personal and professional lives. This expectation for balance is also a major reason why many in the workforce misunderstand the concept of work-life integration. There is a fear that work-life integration is a corporate euphemism for spending more time connected, and thereby remaining obligated, to work duties. Luckily, with advancements in UC tech, this doesn’t have to be the case. For example, if an employer knows that a certain employee has to come in late due to a doctor’s appointment, or leave early due to family obligations, smartphone email apps or conferencing technology gives more flexibility to the employee while still remaining accessible during work hours. This is just one example of work-life integration and its benefits.
Underutilizing Communications Tech
Despite the vast array of UC tech available, many employees are underutilizing the various helpful tools and solutions UC provides. This may be due to a lack of communicating the full value of UC tech, or sub-par employee onboarding. If an employee doesn’t receive proper training, they won’t be able to fully realize the benefits that UC provides. Say an employee wants to attend a family event or tend to a personal matter; with the right UC tools, they can still make important meetings on their personal device, rather than missing out or rescheduling. If that same employee isn’t aware of how to use that specific UC tool (or aren’t even aware it’s available) they might feel as if they have to make a sacrifice between personal or professional responsibility.
Technology as a Mediator
What if using unified communications technology could provide an opportunity for employees to achieve better work-life balance through a focus on integrating both personal and professional duties? Most employees have smart devices of some kind, so utilizing UC tech is just a matter of communicating its full value. For the employee, true work-life integration doesn’t have to mean more hours, but rather that you can be where you need to be without having to worry about it affecting work life. If you can take a conference call from home, for example, or join a web meeting before your child’s baseball game, you can effectively be in both places at once. For employers, by using UC tech to cultivate a culture of work-life integration, employees can be more flexible while also remaining accessible during regular working hours. As the old saying goes, work smarter, not harder.
Obviously, work-life integration is a much more complex topic than simply downloading a UC app on a smart device and achieving a magical, holistic balance between personal and professional life. It requires an overhaul in work culture and mindset. However, in the age of the cloud and with the power of unified communication solutions, perhaps finding fulfillment in our personal lives while remaining productive at work don’t have to be in constant conflict.
Want to read more about how technology is impacting work culture? Read our recent blog post about how to better utilize remote workers.