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Who Needs a Work-Life Balance?

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The term work-life balance is curious - chiefly because it suggests that our lives are so easily divided into two separate buckets: one which consists of 'work', and another that consists of everything that isn't 'work' - something we should refer to as 'life' or 'living'.

As a term, it spectacularly fails to reflect the complexities of modern life. I may, for instance, wish to work in a more flexible manner than the traditional nine to five - responding to my work and personal emails from the same smartphone, access business documents remotely from my iMac at home, or take a conference call in my home office.

Things are no longer as black and white as they once were. The ways people choose to live and work in 2012 differ greatly from even twenty years ago, and are likely to change further still. Once, we saw our work and personal lives as two very distinct segments of the day, separated by clocking in and out. Now, those two parts of our lives are becoming increasingly intertwined. People are working more flexible hours, some are combining personal and business trips and many no longer spend all day, every day in the office.

Therefore, we really should be talking less about balancing our work and home lives, and more about achieving work-life harmony.

Technology, of course, will play an important role in this transition. The past twelve months have witnessed a huge surge in the sales of mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets and ultrabooks and this has been mirrored by mounting pressure from people who want to use their favourite gadgets at work as well as home.

In fact, so intuitive has technology become, and so closely linked via social media to lifestyle preferences, that people are instinctively using it to 'life-slice'; to merge work and play by moving smoothly from one to the other and back many times a day. Out there - right now - there are people creating corporate budgets on the sidelines of their son's school rugby matches, checking design blueprints in the garden, and collaborating from a coffee shop with colleagues on the other side of the world. In my case, I can be literally in two places at once thanks to technology - helping me achieve maximum productivity both at work and at home.

Technology is allowing us to move effortlessly between work mode and play mode, but technology isn't the whole story - we now need a fundamental change in perception from employers in terms of their attitudes to working hours and practices.

The problem is that employers in Europe are still clinging to a desire for workers to be present in the office, because historically that has been the way to measure the work for which they're paying. In other words, organisations are insisting on paying for employee time as a commodity rather than placing a realistic value on employee intellectual capital, capacity for innovation, and ability to maintain a competitive edge.

Achieving work-life harmony is perfectly possible. The technology is there and employees are willing. However, a sea change is still needed if we are going to be able to realise the potential. That means employers accepting that workers can be just as, if not more, productive on an iPad in a café - as they can be by sitting at a desk from nine to five. With that acceptance will come a change in the way we work forever.

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