E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

From the blog

Work Live Integration – 23 and 1/2 Hours

Tenerife - Roques de Garcia with Mount Teide in the WinterOver the course of the last few weeks, perhaps couple of months, I have noticed how I am starting to post articles about a good number of different topics on this blog that have expanded beyond the original intent to talk about Knowledge Management, Collaboration, Online Communities, Learning and Social Computing / Networking for Business. In particular, I have begun to become more and more interested in those subjects related to work life integration that are surely part of the business world, too, specially, when time and time again plenty of folks have been talking all along about that work life balance, but time and time again we have never seen it become a reality. Well, what if that balance didn’t exist in the first place? Most importantly, what if that work life balance has never existed, right from the beginning, despite what we may have been thinking about all along? Time then to wake up to that new reality of always-on, (inter)connected, and readily available, regardless of where you may well be, what device you may be using, who you may be connecting with, and what you may be working on at that moment?

While I was in London a couple of weeks ago participating at the #UCExpo event, where I did a keynote session on the topic of Living A World Without Email” (See this great article put together by Guy Clapperton to get a glimpse of what I talked about or this other link for the recording of the session itself) and the subject of work life balance came up from the audience when asking me how do I balance it all out not relying on corporate email anymore and instead having made the transition into social networking tools for getting work done. One of the attendees brought up the whole concept of work life balance and how important it is in today’s business world and how we all seem to keep neglecting it big time, and I just couldn’t help getting a chuckle or two, because, in reality, I have always thought that such balance just doesn’t exist. It is a big myth. It always has been!

In most cases, indeed, it’s a myth that most corporations have made us, knowledge workers, believe is possible to have in today’s work environment as a way to combine our work lives with our private ones, when, all along, I have always stated that such balance just doesn’t exist and for a single reason: work has always won (and it will continue to win!). It has trumped life all along and it will continue to do so for many decades to come. Instead, a long while ago I have made the transition into what some people have been calling work life integration, where one of key words / concepts that has started making the rounds in the last few years, that is, flexibility, is gaining more and more importance and relevance as we move forward.

Work life integration, and that flexibility, starts kicking in when both knowledge workers and employers begin to understand how we need to make a transition into measuring business performance by the outcomes and deliverables of what you produce, regardless of the time that it would take you to complete such tasks, rather than by just your mere physical presence, working a good number of hours, even if there is no more work to be done. It’s all about autonomy and how you are going to manage your work hours in the wider, larger context, of how you are going to live your own personal life. And we should all remember that we just got ONE life, and perhaps MULTIPLE jobs (Seeing today’s new reality, in the dozens!).

Just recently I read this fascinating article, over at Lifehacker, that points to this other, much longer, but equally worth it, piece of research by Sara Robinson about how if your work week extends beyond the 40 hours per week you may be having a huge problem with your own productivity that you would need to tackle. And soon! There is no denying that in today’s corporate environment becoming even more productive and effective knowledge worker is going to ever increase our stress levels because more and more is being demanded from us, by multiple projects, teams, networks, communities and some times it’s difficult to juggle with it all. But what if we would take a step back, and realise that not everything is about work? That not everything is about being chained to whatever the computing device to get work done. That there are more important aspects out there, in our lives, that we should treasure perhaps even more than work, and I am not even taking into account the private quality time that we spend with our families, friends, relatives and loved ones, which we all know has been decreasing quite a bit over the course of time anyway, in the first place.

In this particular case I am talking about something so fundamental as health, our very own health. Indeed, that aspect of our lives that we keep taking for granted, day in day out, till it’s perhaps too late and we cannot longer back out of it, because we didn’t pay enough attention to it in the first place. One of the things that I have come to terms with over the course of the last 4 years, when I started with this initiative of Living A World Without Email“, is that us, knowledge workers, are not that fundamental, critical to the business and indispensable that we think we are. In fact, we aren’t. Whether we would like to admit it or not, the business world will always continue to move on, with us, or without us, and things will be just fine. You know, it’s something that’s been happening all along, but that we have never realised about it till probably now. We all go on holidays for one, two or three weeks, or longer, if you are lucky enough! (Fascinating read that one, by the way, that I will be picking up on another blog entry), and we try to disconnect, relax, unwind from everything work related. We may be more or less successful in achieving that, but one thing for sure is that when we are not there, things keep moving on just at the same pace as before, if not even faster, judging by the amount of catchup most of us have got to do upon our return.

That, in itself, is an indication of how we, knowledge workers, may need to start shifting gears and become more focused on what work is all about and what our personal lives should be about. It’s that integration between work life that needs to kick in, to understand that some times you will be working really hard for over 12 to 14 hours straight, because work would require you to do that, and then there would be other times where you may just be working 2 to 4 hours and the rest of the time you can dedicate it to spend it doing something else. The key challenge though would remain on how willing would those businesses be to allow for that kind of flexibility in the corporate environment and whether they would be able to support it or not. In my opinion, they surely would, because, amongst other things, they would haven’t have much of a choice, if they would want to retain their talent in fear of those knowledge workers moving elsewhere, i.e. to another business that would be much more accommodating for that same flexibility.

That’s why, over the last few months we have seen how plenty of corporations have been paying attention to one key fundamental aspect that affects them, just as much as their knowledge workers: our very own health! I am not sure whether you may have noticed it or not, but plenty of companies are starting to carry out rather intense campaigns to raise awareness of how important and critical it is for knowledge workers to look after their own health in order to be able to perform better. I am sure most of you folks out there would have plenty of reasons to share across on why businesses are finally paying attention to such important matters, but one thing that is undeniable, to me, is that in this matter if one self doesn’t look after their own health, no-one else would. So, I am really glad we are now finally seeing this topic coming up on the table. It’s an important one.

That’s perhaps why as of late, I am becoming a whole lot more interested in that work life integration from the perspective of taking into account other important aspects of how we can conduct work in a meaningful way, rather than in work itself. After all, we all know it’s going to happen eventually anyway, so if we can remain focused and purposeful about it, we should probably take into account other important aspects, like this one on health. It all became a lot clearer to me way back in July last year when I decided to take a bit more of a proactive approach in taking care of my own health by growing up the habit of doing daily workouts (and plenty of exercise!), a good healthy diet of learning to eat smaller portions of everything and get plenty of sleep, as I have detailed on a blog entry at the beginning of this year. From there onwards, interest grew in me further along as the results of my overall performance at work have been much better eventually in the understanding that the healthier you become, and no need to go through to the other end of the extreme!, the much more productive and effective you end up being.

And that’s why I wanted to put together this blog entry over here today to highlight a short video clip I bumped into over the course of the last couple of days that I am sure most folks would find quite a fascinating watch, not only because of how relevant it is to this whole discussion of living a healthy life, while getting work done and enjoying plenty of good quality private time with your family and friends, but also for covering some stunning facts about how something so relatively simple as 30 minutes of physical activity on a daily basis can be so beneficial for us all. Indeed, in 23 and 1/2 hours: What is the single best thing we can do for our health? Dr. Mike Evans gets to describe a whole bunch of facts as to why regular physical exercise can help boost not only our health levels, but also our intellectual capacity, which is rather remarkable, because it comes to confirm how we may need to stop obsessing too much about getting work done, and perhaps start obsessing more with looking after own health, if we would want to become better at what we do.

Very little more to add at this point on such important matters, other than perhaps include the embedded code of the video clip over here, so that folks could have a look into it and start pondering how and when they would need to start injecting such energy boosts that come along from that daily exercise in order to provide us with a higher quality life, which I guess is just as good as it gets. And don’t worry, work will continue its course. It always does. Right now, as an example, I am stuck in a hotel room in Madrid, trying to get some work done, but, alas, I can’t because my VPN connection to the Intranet is currently down. So, you see? The world doesn’t stop. It just moves on. Like you should be moving on! This time around the key challenge, and the good fight for us all, is all about trying to figure out how we can integrate it (Work, that is) effectively with other more important tasks dropped on to each and everyone of us: live fully a better quality life.

See? Don’t you think it’s worth it every minute? And it’s just only 30 minutes per day… What’s our excuse not to do it then? Please don’t tell me it’s work, because it surely isn’t. It’s never been about work. It’s always been about how much good care you would be taking about yourself and what really matters to you. And I bet work alone does no longer cut it, does it?

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  1. Part of my working credo is the notion of work-life-parallel. Forget balance. Isn’t balance defines as to equal, yet opposite forces being applied to something in such a way to prevent either from being dominant? That’s a shame. Who wants that?

    As you mention, there is no balance. But I don’t know that I’m particularly interested in allowing work to influence my life. Quite the opposite, actually. Fundamentally, we’re talking about something unimportant (work) being integrated into something meaningful (life). It should be the other way around.

    We should be working in fields which align with our lives. Work-life-parallel means making a living doing things you would otherwise do for free because you believe in and which motivate you intrinsically.

    Which leads me to the future, where I suspect we’ll do more piecemeal, contact work related to our passions and specialties, with multiple organizations, rather than waste time filling a seat with ancillary duties.

    The best is yet to come.

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