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Work-Life Integration vs. Work-Life Balance: Which Works Best for Remote Workers?

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Does your work-life balancing act feel like a bad circus performance? If so, consider work-life integration as an alternative approach. In this article, we discuss the differences between work-life balance and work-life integration and provide tips for both telecommuters and managers.

Work-Life Integration vs. Work-Life Balance: Which Works Best for Remote Workers?

Spoiler alert! Telecommuting isn’t a cure-all for work-life imbalances. Remote workers still have to put effort into harmonizing their careers, families, friends, health, hobbies, education, and professional development.

These days, there are two major approaches to the work-life conundrum: work-life balance and work-life integration. While both seek lifestyle harmony, they differ in the allocation of time to complete daily tasks. Let’s look at the pros and cons, and how you can leverage each method to improve your career and life.

What Is Work-Life Integration?

Work-life integration takes telecommuting to a different level, where work and life aren’t separate entities that require equal weight. Instead, employees incorporate their professional experiences into their personal lives (and vice versa) as a more holistic approach to working from home or on the road.

For example, an online content writer may take the family on vacation and use first-hand experiences to craft new material for articles, social media posts, and marketing copy. An information technology consultant might demo new cloud-based software for personal use and end up recommending the services to clients.

Other examples irrespective of occupation may include:

  • Starting the workday whenever you want
  • Responding to emails in a waiting room or lobby
  • Performing light yoga while watching a training video
  • Feeding the dog while discussing plans with a manager
  • Completing work tasks at happy hour instead of a coffee shop
  • Taking annual workcations (working regular hours while traveling)

Think of work-life integration as performing your job while living your normal life. It’s a unified, blended, harmonious work-life arrangement that doesn’t necessarily require chunking time, giving equal attention to any individual facet, or evaluating your performance and satisfaction with work and life separately.

What Is Work-Life Balance?

The idea behind work-life balance is to separate career and home life so that you can complete your professional tasks and still have plenty of time for family, friends, and other activities outside of work.

For example, successful work-life balance may consist of an employee working in a home office with the door shut while a caregiver watches the kids during dedicated work hours. This scenario resembles a typical day at the office, except the employee is physically located at home.

When it’s time to clock out, the employee comes out of the cubby and spends the rest of the evening with family. Whenever older kids have days off school, the employee may continue as usual or may adjust the work schedule to accommodate the family’s needs. In this case, both work and family are given their fair share of attention so that there is a balance between the two.

In another example, the employee may designate chunks of time for both work and home tasks throughout the day so that everything gets done and receives equal attention. So, the employee may get the kids off to school, before sitting down in the home office for three or four hours. Lunchtime may involve laundry or checking off a few personal to-do items. Then another two or three hours of work before picking up the kids from school and prepping dinner.

Additional chunks of work time might include while dinner simmers, the kids do their homework, or you take a late-evening call with a team member. Working hours may also be adjusted on the fly to care for immediate family needs. Finally, the employee shuts down the computer, beckons the children for supper, and enjoys quality family time before bed.

Related: 10 Entry Level Jobs for Parents Who Want to Telecommute

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Which Is Better, Work-Life Integration or Work-Life Balance?

Work-life balance and work-life integration have a similar goal: to help employees feel happier, work more productively, and organize time according to their priorities. Though the two terms aim for a common end, they use different means to get there.

Work-Life Integration

Work-life integration blurs the lines between work and life to create a more unified personal-professional lifestyle. With an integrated approach, time becomes less of a metric, and output and overall gains become more valuable. Though time-management remains a critical skill, and you may still have deadlines and project schedules to follow, the time you spend working is also the time you spend living.

The work-life integration approach can help you spend your time more wisely and purposefully. However, the intentional blurriness of this strategy can also cause confusion and burnout if you don’t set boundaries.

Work-Life Balance

Alternatively, work-life balance tends to involve separating work and life so that you dedicate a proportionate amount of time and energy to each. Work-life balance often uses time as a metric and weights professional and personal time individually.

One drawback, as experts at UC Berkley Haas School of Business explain, is that work-life balance “evokes a binary opposition between work and life,” which can result in “a sense of competition between the two elements.”

The work-life balance approach requires constant checks and balances so that work or life doesn’t dominate the other. When an imbalance occurs, it’s normal to experience excess stress, anxiety, and disorder until you restore the balance.

The Good News Is…

All in all, neither work-life balance nor work-life integration is better than the other. In the end, it comes down to personal preference as both approaches have benefits and drawbacks. Therefore, to achieve more overall satisfaction in your personal and professional life, start by evaluating your preferred work style and lifestyle.

Tips for Employees on Better Work-Life Integration or Work-Life Balance

Whether you choose work-life balance or integration, they both take, well, work! Having a telecommute job doesn’t automatically make things easier or guarantee that you’re going to achieve your goals. You still have to put in the effort to get the results you seek. Here are a few tips to get you started.

1. Know What’s Most Important to You

If you don’t know why you want better work-life balance, let alone what work-life balance means, then you’re going to have a hard time achieving and experiencing it. First, reflect on your values and what’s most important to you personally and professionally. Then, think about whether it makes sense to separate work and home life throughout your days or if an integrated approach sounds more appealing.

2. Prioritize Self-Management

Time-management and energy-management are keys to work-life balance and integration. Since you don’t have anyone physically over your shoulder telling you what you need to do and how you need to do it, you must be your own manager and set clear rules and expectations for yourself.

Even if you prefer to fly by the seat of your pants (though we all know many telecommuters don’t prioritize pants), proper planning, scheduling, and time-tracking will help keep you productive.

Additionally, learn to manage your energy and how much of your thoughts and attention go towards work and life activities. Whenever you feel drained, it’s worth stepping back to evaluate your methods and try more efficient strategies.

Related: 18 Ways to Reduce Distractions While Working from Home

3. Unplug from Devices

As a telecommuter, you probably stare at a computer most of your workday. Though you may wish to use your personal time for side gigs, video games, watching movies, or posting to social media, take regular breaks from all screens and devices to clear your head, move your muscles, or do something tactile.

Tips for Managers on Creating a Balanced Remote Team Culture

As an employer or manager of remote employees, creating a culture of work-life balance or integration may seem like none of your business. You may assume that most of the responsibility falls on your team members (They’re the ones who want balance, right?). However, employers and managers have a significant influence on how remote professionals create and sustain their balance between work and home life. Take it from our Top 100 Telecommute Companies that lead the nation in remote job postings—telecommuting works best when you promote the attainment of work-life balance with your staff.

1. Talk About Work-Life Balance and Work-Life Integration

During onboarding, training, or team meetings, talk about the importance of balancing personal and professional tasks and creating boundaries at home. Encourage workers to share their stories, tips, and lessons learned so that all may benefit. Foster a culture of open communication where people feel comfortable discussing challenges and helping each other alleviate any work-at-home woes.

Related: 12 Ways to Cultivate Community Among Remote Teams

2. Give Staff Enough Space

To achieve work-life balance or integration, your team members must establish clear boundaries for themselves. As an employer or manager, you can help your staff set limits by giving them space to structure their days as needed. Of course, you can always expect employees to adhere to deadlines and attend mandatory meetings, but you don’t need to know what they’re doing every second of the workday.

Many managers are afraid to give too much freedom because they fear nothing will get done or they won’t be able to contact employees during business hours. However, this notion is far from the truth. Studies, such as Gallup’s State of the American Workplace, have found that employees are more productive with flexible schedules, which subsequently leads to increased job satisfaction and improvements in employee retention.

3. Be a Model of Work-Life Balance or Integration

Australian Professors Paula K. McDonald and Abby Cathcart, who wrote a chapter in the Handbook of Research on Managing Managers, stress the importance that role modeling has on promoting work-life integration among team members. Since employees often follow the lead of their line managers, you can foster a culture that values work-life balance and integration by practicing yourself. The more you demonstrate your own commitment, the more your team will follow suit.

Find Remote Jobs via Virtual Vocations that Promote Work-Life Integration or Work-Life Balance

At Virtual Vocations, we make it easy to find jobs that align with your career and lifestyle goals. Our remote job research team searches thousands to companies to find quality jobs that allow you to work from home or anywhere in the world. Our team also categorizes each post according to job category, career level, telecommute options, and more so that you can find positions that match your criteria.

Check it out for yourself! Visit the Virtual Vocations Telecommute Job Database and start applying for jobs that allow you to balance or integrate your career and life.

Which of these remote job search tips for new grads did you find most helpful; are there any others that have been of benefit to youConnect with Virtual Vocations on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to tell us about the telecommute job you want and about your post-college job search. We’d love to hear from you to learn more about which remote jobs you want to see and how we can better assist new grads like you.

iStock Photo Credit: 1. monkeybusinessimages; 2. Sezeryadigar

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