Finding the Balance in the 24/7 Shuffle: Will I Ever See My Kids?

by | 14 May 2015

“Health and lifestyle” and “work-life balance” are the phrases de jour, but these are far from the reality of those striving to get ahead in the corporate rat race. If that’s you, you’re probably familiar with the 6 a.m. start, the 8 p.m. finish and many weekends spent catching up on a backlog of emails.

Also: Five pillars of an authentic workplace | It’s time to get the workplace right

And, in the meantime, your partner or kids never actually get to see you — given that you probably also spend an hour on public transport getting to and from work, not to mention the fortune you claim on taxis getting home (because, naturally, the trains only run every hour after 7 p.m.). Does this exhaustion and constant inertia sound familiar? For many of us, they do.

Plus: How your workplace can improve your productivity | How education is subverting the workplace

So, what’s the solution?

Let’s say your company has a flexible work policy: It allows you to work from home, drop the kids off and work in your pj’s. Great! But there is a fundamental problem with this.

First of all, can you really work at home with the dog bothering you, the temptation to get a load of washing done and a “home office” that is stuck in the garage? What is the quality of your output in this environment? Are you really more productive?

And then there’s FOMO. You know, the fear of missing out. While your colleagues are busy networking with the boss over a coffee back in the office, your boss has started to forget what you look like.

Is working from home really worth it?

These are some of the big issues affecting the quality of family life in our hyper-competitive business environment, and they affect working mothers and fathers deeply. The sad thing is that it is only going to get worse as our creaking transport-infrastructure struggles to keep up with the growth of our cities. Commutes are only going to get longer, and families are being driven to the fringes by booming house prices. It seems there is no end in sight for the weary worker.

One answer could be regional hubs. Creating strategically-placed mini-offices close to where you live would mean that you could have a go-to “office” with all of the benefits that a real office entails, only much closer to home. So, you could drop the kids off at school and be available in an emergency – and not spend an hour in crowded train. These mini-office hubs would be located in key metropolitan areas with convenient access to transport, and they would be set up like a real office so there would be no loss in productivity.

But what’s the challenge for companies? Firstly, they would need to look at how to afford the maintenance of another office. They could pay twice or more to create lots of mini-offices around the city. Is this worth their employees’ long-term well-being?

This is where a couple of ideas need to be combined:

1. Implement activity-based working in the central office

Provide, say, 80 desks for every 100 employees. This approach saves space in your head office but provides a desk available when you need or want to come in.

2. “Shared economy”

GoGet does this really well with cars: You rent a car online by the hour or day. We can do the same with the regional hubs. The good news is there are a few providers out there already doing this. Companies like Regus, which provide flexible work space for companies in a range of regional hubs, are expanding quickly. They provide well-designed, progressive work space that can be rented online by the desk on an hourly or daily basis in regional transport hubs. This single idea has the potential to transform lives, cut down commuting time, relieve traffic congestion and get parents more time with their kids.

While there’s no magic bullet to achieving the delicate equilibrium of what we like to imagine as “work-life balance,” with a few smart initiatives from the employer that create options for dedicated workers, there is a huge opportunity to maximize productivity and keep everyone happy.

Find out more about how workplace strategy can help create a more effective work place. For more insights and discussion, follow our Colliers Collaboration page on LinkedIn.

As National Director of Workplace Strategy and Design for Colliers International in Australia, Peter is a workplace strategist and qualified architect with over 25 years’ experience in workplace and base building design, working with clients ranging from Bauer Media Group, AT Kearney, Ricoh, ANZ Bank and Citrix.