Work+Life in BusinessWeek’s Future of Work? Yes, and No

First, I want to thank everyone for their inspiring and supportive comments and emails in response to my blog posting last week, “Mom’s Peaceful Passing—Eldercare True Confessions.” I promise to use my experience to keep the dialogue going. Now back to this week’s posting….

Imagine my excitement when BusinessWeek arrived with the cover story, “The Future of Work.” For organizations and individuals to thrive in the 24/7, high-tech, global work reality, work+life flexibility must be a core business and career management strategy. So, I was eager to see how this was presented in the article. What did I find?

First, I was happy to see work+life and flexibility were mentioned at all. However, I was disappointed that the topics were addressed separately and not as specific considerations in the management of global projects or 24/7 connectivity.

“Redesigning Career Paths and Jobs,” Is Not a “Perk” for Women

“Redesigning career paths, jobs and the workplaces to accommodate women with family obligations” was presented in a side bar article entitled “Shape of Perks to Come.” And that particular “perk” came under, “Women—Whatever They Want.” The fact is that redesigning career paths, jobs and the workplace are not just accommodations to get women to “stick around after having children.” They must be core organizational objectives if every employee is going to have a productive work and personal life in the workplace of the future. See my interview in this month’s Consulting Magazine where I discuss how consulting firms should rethink their traditional client service model that places a premium on constant travel.

I agree that it’s all about “sculpting jobs to fit lives” (i.e. work+life “fit”), but it’s not all about only doing that after a woman has baby. There are so many different work+life transitions–parenthood is only one of them—which both men and women have to manage in the context of work.

In a World Without Any External Work Boundaries (Time Sheets or Offices), We Need Someone to Teach Us How

Other work+life related innovations were mentioned such as doing away with time sheets, and combining your home and office. But there was no mention of providing individuals with the skill set to personally manage the boundaries between work and the rest of their lives in an environment without any external boundaries.

Trust me, what’s missing in companies today, and what was missing in this article, is an understanding that people have no idea how to manage their work+life fit. This recognition is what compelled me to start writing my book eight years ago. We need to give people work+life fit management skills if they are going to personally and professionally thrive in the future workplace.

Managing Project Teams Across Time Zones—the Missing Work+Life Component

Another article in this compelling series claims that, “Getting workers to collaborate instantly—not tomorrow or next week—but now, requires nothing less than a management revolution.” I would argue it requires nothing less than a work+life management revolution. What do I mean? I will use a case study from the magazine to illustrate my point.

The story starts with IBM employee, Willy Chiu in Palo Alto, California receiving an email in the early evening from the head of IBM operations in Tokyo, saying there is competition for a project in Korea. It then talks about how within “minutes” Chiu has people from Korea, Beijing, and London working on resolving the issue, and has notified his assistant (who I assume is in Palo Alto) to tell his wife he’ll be “working late.”

Not once did anyone mention the impact of this scenario on their personal reality. Every now and then people can “go the extra mile” and put their lives on hold to solve a crisis. But day in and day out, working this way is unsustainable for all but a very few people without personal responsibilities that require attention. And, if this work style is not addressed organizationally and individually it will ultimately impact the productivity and effectiveness of these teams. What do I mean?

Well, first let’s look at the time zones involved in this scenario. Both Willy and his assistant are working in the early evening so say 6:00 pm. In Tokyo and Seoul, it is 10:00 am the next business day, while in Beijing it is 9:00 am. For the person in London, it’s 2:00 am in the morning.

While the Tokyo, Seoul, and Beijing people are working during “normal” business hours, what about the other players?

• Willy–What if his wife were traveling on business and he needed to get home to relieve the babysitter? And, if he works until midnight dealing with this issue, is he going to be expected to come in the next day from “9-to-5pm?”

• Willy’s Assistant—Is she going to be expected to work until midnight? What if she has a class she needs to get to, or a mother to pick up from the Adult Day Care Center? Is she going to be expected to come in the next day from “9-to-5?”

• London Team Member—It’s 2:00 am! Was that person sleeping with their Blackberry on? And when it went off, did they have to go into the office, or could they answer the question and then wait until the next day to go into the office and start working? Was that person also expected to work a “normal” hours the next day, even though they were up in the middle of the night?

Do you see how critically important this is, and how without addressing all of these “work+life” considerations these global teams might ultimately not succeed?

But let’s assume I’m wrong, and that work+life isn’t an important factor in the future workplace. Then, who are these fantasy workers who throughout their entire careers drop everything at a moment’s notice and work round-the-clock without having to think about anything else? Assuming a minority of workers fit this description, where will companies find enough of these people to staff their entire organizations?

Good News…C-Suite Executives Starting to Get It!

BusinessWeek’s future of work is exciting and full of possibilities, but the complete picture must include work+life flexibility. The good news is that I am beginning to talk to more CEOs, CFOs, and CIOs who agree that work+life flexibility needs to be an integral part of their global growth strategies in order to manage scenarios like the one in BusinessWeek. Here’s hoping! But bravo to BusinessWeek for getting the conversation started.

What are the work+life challenges you’ve experienced working either with clients or teams across global times zones? (Remember my strong comment spam filter—I will see your comment and approve it, so comment away!)

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