When the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of the United States in March 2020, employers and employees around the country scrambled to restructure the way they worked. The work/life balance strategy that had been established in many workplaces since the 1980s dissolved instantaneously, and employees were catapulted into an extreme work/life integration scenario. For most, the transition was rough, but it opened up a conversation that had been looming in the distance for about a decade: Is it time for employers to re-think work/life balance?
Economists have recently seen a significant rise in the popularity of a term deemed “work/life integration.” Additionally, over the last decade as millennials battle burnout, and after almost two years of pandemic-initiated remote work, articles surrounding The Great Resignation are currently dominating the news cycle. While the imminent return to the office could be part of this “Great Resignation” (or “Great Renegotiation,” as coined by Planet Money), it’s clear that many employees have seen the benefit of the flexibility of work/life integration while navigating fully remote work.
Fortunately, we’ve been practicing work/life integration at Text-Em-All since the day we were founded, and with so many companies trying to figure out how to easily transition, we wanted to give a peek inside our methodology.
So What is Work/Life Integration?
Work/life balance has been the star of the show for the past 50 years, and the term was initially brought into use as baby boomers struggled with jobs requiring long hours that prevented them from spending time with their families. However, the power of 24/7 connectivity has disrupted the work/life balance model that, in many ways, implied you were either at home or at work. Now, we can switch between them on a moment’s notice. While it may seem like a positive change that employees are available most of the day, workers have started to feel like they can never escape work. Luckily, work/life integration was ushered in as employers tried to address issues with the shifting work/life balance mentality.
There’s a pretty stark difference between work/life balance and work/life integration. While work/life balance implies work and home life should be kept completely separate, work/life integration begs to differ. It suggests that maybe work and life cannot be put into separate containers, and rather says that the two should live in harmony. This approach to balancing work and home life offers flexibility to employees by letting them (to an extent) structure their work days the way they see fit. For example, an employee offers to coach their child’s soccer team and leaves early on Wednesdays for practice, but they know they have an email that must get a response before Thursday morning. With work/life integration, you’re free to leave for soccer and respond to the email after your children go to bed.
How to Achieve Work/Life Integration
Now, this is where many employers become hung up and, quite frankly, terrified of work/life integration. For years, companies have been micromanaging their employees to make sure they get their money’s worth of work, and it’s a valid concern to fear that if you give employees more flexibility, they’ll turn around and abuse it. But flexibility isn’t the issue - it’s the absence of trust.
At Text-Em-All, effective work/life integration is a product of our team’s commitment to each other and to the company. Each employee commits to the Text-Em-All Formula in their first week as an employee, and the Formula guides everything we do. Our Formula comes directly from the book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Pat Lencioni, and outlines how we work. In our own words, our team has outlined five key steps that we must take in order to produce great work, and we believe these steps are vital to our success. The Formula guides healthy teamwork at Text-Em-All, and our implementation of it is what makes our work/life integration strategy easily achievable.
For us, achieving effective work/life integration begins with building trust. Trust is at the core of everything we do as a team. Since trust is the base, we don’t have to worry about our co-workers abusing their flexibility because honestly, no one wants to! Employees won’t want to lose your trust if you’ve given them yours.
In addition to trust, we all commit to getting our part done. Clarity and honesty throughout teams allows our purpose to unite us, and lets us feel confident that we can commit to providing flexibility for all team members by working together. Our teammates are counting on us, and we hold each other accountable, meaning if a teammate is not available when you need them to be, we go straight to the source and talk to them about it.
With trust at the base, commitment in the heart, and accountability weaved throughout our teams, it’s easy to have a work/life integration structure that benefits everyone.
So What’s the Downside?
Work/life integration is a privilege that has changed our employees’ lives. It has allowed people to be better mothers, husbands, friends and children, but it also comes with the willingness to adapt on the spot, self-monitor, and understand that integration may look different for everyone.
The first downside to work/life integration is that trust is required to make it work. If it was easy, everyone would do it, and the trust requirement could easily expose systemic problems with your team. If it does, we suggest going through 5 Dysfunctions with your team!
Another downside is that it’s important to be diligent in self-monitoring to make sure you aren’t getting carried away with work. With the ability to always be “on,” it’s important to shut it off and ensure you’re giving time to yourself and your family. For example, if something happens and you have to work all evening and into the night, the integration model says to find a way to make it work. Sleep in, maybe drive your kids to school or make breakfast for your spouse before coming into the office a little later.
Lastly, it takes practice to remember that other co-workers may be working at different times than you are. In non-emergency situations, you don’t have to respond immediately, nor should you if you’re spending valuable time with friends and family. Some of the ways our employees tackle this is by snoozing their Slack channels while they’re not online to make sure they can be fully present when they’re offline.
Work/life integration isn’t for everyone, and it’s not for every company either! Some people would prefer to work on a team where all hours are fixed, and that’s ok - it’s just not us.
How Work/Life Integration Has Changed Our Employees Lives
Work/life integration looks different for every company, and at Text-Em-All, varies team-to-team and person-to-person, but all draws back to our humanity. For us, the way we build trust with each other starts in the office, around the water cooler. Getting to know each other and our families, pets included, is the start to truly caring about the well-being of each other.
Each employee’s integration needs are different, and as a team we recognize that. Our employees use work/life integration for different things across the board, with some of our favorites including: to walk their kids home from school, join a soccer league, and easily attend doctors’ appointments.
Just last month, one of our engineers, Sunil, visited India to see his family. As soon as he knew he’d be traveling to India for the month, he let his supervisor know. As our company currently has a hybrid model in place, he asked if he could work from India for a week and a half and take the other week off to spend time with his family. His manager immediately suggested that he just take the full three weeks off as this was such an important trip, and his team rallied to help keep his projects moving while he was gone.
Many of our employees have children, and we prioritize making sure no one feels like being a good parent and being a good employee are in competition with each other. Some of our Text-Em-All parents will attend Daddies and Donuts, while others walk their kids home from school whenever they can. It’s not unusual for parents to take a morning to chaperone a field trip, and it’s common practice to be able to easily work from home if your kids are sick. Our teams here at the office not only want you to be a great, contributing member of the team, they also want you to be a GREAT parent. They’ll cover for you because they care about you, and because they know you’ll do the same for them if a personal situation arises. It’s just part of being a team.
Kaitlyn Orred is the Digital Marketing Specialist at Text-Em-All, a mass texting and automated calling company that provides solutions for small and medium sized businesses, large corporations, membership organizations, community groups, and individuals. She has 7 years of experience in content creation, and you can catch her practicing yoga, curling up with a great book, or hiking with her Mini Aussie, Koda.