Why workplace flexibility is the name of the game

Written by 
Jim Kalbach
March 6, 2024
A yellow graphic with black text that reads, 'Are you working from home, or homing from work?'
Why workplace flexibility is the name of the game
Written by 
Jim Kalbach
March 6, 2024

Can you envision a workplace that would completely separate your professional work from your personal life?

The TV series “Severance” (available on Apple TV) delves into this notion with an interesting twist. Set within the fictitious company Lumon Industries, the series introduces a procedure known as "severance," designed to split employees' memories based on their location: inside or outside the office. 

Within the office walls, employees — referred to as "innies" on the show — possess no recollection of their external lives. None. Zilch. There are no family photos on their desks, and they're solely focused on their tasks. 

Once they step outside, they become "outies" — completely free of their work personas and oblivious to their professional endeavors. (Hmm, maybe that'd be nice…?) This dual existence gives rise to contrasting personalities, highlighting the profound divide between work and personal life engineered by Lumon.

It’s a captivating show, but it’s clearly science fiction. In the real world, the split between professional and personal spheres is far more free-form. The notion of maintaining a stoic, "professional" demeanor doesn’t match the reality that we are three-dimensional beings. We bring our whole selves to work, whether you like it or not. 

To be fair, there's a difference between our worklife and personal life (of course). The conventional 8-hour workday receives our professional focus, while evenings and weekends are reserved for personal pursuits. Still, the interplay between work and home life is fluid. This intersection isn’t a flaw but a reality that reflects the complexity of human life. In the end, it comes down to balance. 

Work-life balance: A brief history

The concept of work-life balance traces its origins back to the Industrial Revolution. This era, marked by grueling work schedules, saw workers enduring 14- to 16-hour days for six days a week, a reality that took a toll on both social and personal well-being. The dire conditions sparked a movement among labor reformers, who championed the cause for reduced working hours, particularly advocating for ‌vulnerable segments of the workforce, such as women and children. 

This movement also set the stage for legislative changes that gradually ameliorated working conditions — a pivotal moment being the United States' adoption of the 40-hour workweek in 1940, which marked a significant stride towards making sure that workers had ample time for personal pursuits. 

Related: Where does our basic notion of a workday come from?

The term "work-life balance" emerged in the 1980s in the United Kingdom, born out of the Women's Liberation Movement. The movement catalyzed discussions on how to achieve a reasonable equilibrium that would enable women in the workforce to fulfill both their professional and personal roles. 

Despite these efforts, the quest for work-life balance has continued to be an uphill battle.

As the concept of work-life balance has evolved, it’s expanded beyond mere time management between professional and personal life to encompass strategies aimed at mitigating burnout and managing stress. This evolution reflected a shift towards a broader understanding of work-life balance, emphasizing the need for flexible schedules and effective time management.

As the dynamics of work and personal life continue to transform, so too will the strategies for navigating these realms in a manner that prioritizes well-being, happiness, and fulfillment.

What does ‘homing from work’ mean? 

In today's world, our work and personal lives are more mixed than ever, thanks to all the gadgets and tech we use every day. Think about it: We carry our phones everywhere because we need them for work stuff like security checks, but those same phones also keep us hooked to our favorite websites and shopping apps.

The setting on the work-life blender just went from chop to puree. 

This mix-up has led to something called "homing from work." It's when you sneak in some personal to-dos during work hours, like booking a doctor's appointment, sorting out a delivery, doing a bit of banking, or even some quick online shopping. The cool part? Doing these personal bits during work might actually make us more productive and help us juggle work and life better.

A study by the Captivate Network first uncovered and detailed the phenomenon. Their research showed that even though we might be working more hours, folks felt they had a better grip on balancing work and life, thanks to being able to tick off personal tasks during work time.

But, whether or not "homing from work" is cool can really depend on where you work. Some places are chill about it, especially if you're the kind of person who's often stuck working late or on weekends. The main thing is making sure that ‌personal stuff doesn't get in the way of work stuff, and that you're still getting all your work done.

This whole idea challenges the old-school thought that we're somehow more focused when we're at the office. Truth is, work and home life have always been blended together, and that's not likely to change. Instead of fighting it, companies might do better by just going with the flow and embracing this mix-up as part of today's working world.

The notion of homing from work also flies in the face of many return-to-office policies, which often come with the assumption that workers are somehow more focused while in the office. 

Truth is, people aren't ‘severed’ between work and home.

Workplace flexibility FTW

Flexibility is the name of the game in today's workplace. Sometimes, work needs to take the front seat, and that's okay. Whether it's heading back to the office or setting up a killer home office, having the right support makes all the difference. Other times, life calls, and we need to zoom off to handle things like dry cleaning, kid pickups, or being there for the family when they need us most.

That's why we think "workplace flexibility" really hits the nail on the head for what we're all about nowadays. It's not about choosing work or life; it's about mixing them together in a way that makes sense, especially for folks whose work is all about using their brains and skills.

And at the heart of all this? Trust. We've got to trust each other to make this work.

Related: Trust your people — you hired them for a reason

Post-pandemic, everyone's shouting from the rooftops for more flexibility at work. And why not? We've all seen that we can keep the ball rolling, maybe even push it faster, from our own homes. The perks are huge.

Benefits of workplace flexibility:

  • Employee health: When we're less stressed about fitting our lives around work, our health gets a big thumbs up. Fewer sick days, more happy days.
  • Employee satisfaction: Happy workers are the best kind. When we've got the freedom to work in a way that suits us, we're more likely to stick around and keep giving it our all.
  • Gender equity: Flexibility helps level the playing field. It means everyone, regardless of gender, can manage their careers alongside personal responsibilities like family care without missing a beat.
  • Racial equity: Flexible work setups can help break down barriers, offering more opportunities for everyone, no matter their background, to shine and grow in their careers.

These perks? They're good for everyone, making the workplace better for all of us. It's time to ditch the old view of workers as just cogs in a big business machine.

The pandemic showed us a silver lining: Work and life can flex together. We've proven that we don't need to be watched over every minute to do a great job. After all, we're adults, capable of managing our time and responsibilities. 

Let's embrace this new era of work-life flexibility and make the most of it!

About the authors

About the authors

Jim Kalbach

Jim Kalbach

Chief Evangelist
Jim is a noted author, speaker, and instructor in innovation, design, and the future of work. He is currently Chief Evangelist at Mural, the leading visual work platform.