While taking time out of the workday to run personal errands has previously been frowned upon in the corporate world, a recent infographic by Captivate Network on “homing from work” – doing personal activities during the workday – shows mixing work and personal time may be the best way to rectify work/life conflict.

Data show 93 percent of busy professionals took breaks to do personal activities during the workday in an effort to improve their work-life balance. More than two out of three of those surveyed admitted to surfing the net or shopping online while nearly half left their office to run personal errands including going to the bank, medical appointments, picking up a gift or dropping off dry cleaning. The number of employees running personal errands during the day has increased by 31 percent. Perhaps most shocking is that the number of employees who reported having a healthy work-life balance increased by 11 percent despite a 30 percent increase in the number of individuals working more than nine hours a day.

Is this increase in work-life balance satisfaction a reflection of the growth of “homing at work?” Professor Stewart Friedman at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania and founding director of the Work/Life Integration Project, thinks so. He also says allowing employees to openly take breaks during the workday to perform personal tasks can result in higher productivity. Here's how:

Improves focus and concentration. “One of the real destroyers of productivity is inability to focus on the projects or the tasks at hand,” says Friedman. Thinking about family or personal tasks while at work interferes with one’s ability to focus on work tasks. Allowing employees the freedom to take care of some of these personal tasks while at work reduces psychological interference and makes them better employees. Friedman argues the majority of work/life issues are a result of employees feeling out of control of their own lives, which leads to decreased productivity and decreased happiness. “If you give people freedom and flexibility … they feel they have more control,” says Friedman.

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Creates a results-driven culture. Friedman argues businesses should focus on results rather than time spent at work. “If you have results, you become less concerned about where people are when they’re doing their work,” he says. Giving employees a clear sense of what is expected of them and the freedom to figure out when, where and how to achieve these goals will result in a more efficient and productive workforce than one that is told they have to be in the office from 9 to 5 with strict limits on what tasks they can perform at work.

Determines what’s required of the job. While deciding how much freedom to give employees will vary within companies, Friedman says the days when employees weren’t allowed even to open personal email while at work or surf the web for personal reasons are far gone. “In today’s completely interconnected world, it makes no sense to try to impose these blockades against people doing tasks that are critical to their lives beyond work while they’re ‘at work,’” he says. Consider what’s really required of the job to determine the amount of work-life integration freedom that is provided. While there are some tasks and jobs that require employees to be physically present at all times, there are many tasks where one’s physical location is irrelevant. In fact, results may be best achieved by allowing employees the freedom to work from home or to take their Blackberry to the baseball diamond so they can watch their child’s game. Friedman recommends holding employees less accountable for time spent in their desk chair and more accountable for the results they produce, even if this means they’re out of the office or they’re doing their grocery shopping online while at work.

Takes trial and error. The greatest reservation employers have about giving employees the freedom to perform personal tasks while at work is that by granting too much freedom, work will fall to the wayside. While homing from work can certainly get out of hand, striking the right balance requires a process of trial and error. Friedman recommends starting out by asking employees what type of flexibility would help them get their jobs done while meeting their life demands outside of work and testing that freedom for a set period of time (two weeks, a month, etc.). What you will likely find is that employees are more productive during that time because they appreciate the freedom they’ve been awarded and will work harder to ensure they’re able to keep that balance. “There’s a general recognition that the worlds of work and non-work are blending and the greater challenge for us in this era is to be more conscious and deliberate about creating psychological boundaries that allow you to focus on the people and things that matter when they matter,” he says.

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