The Key to Work-Life Balance? Integration of Those 2 Concepts. Want to change into Lycra tights and take a 5-mile bike ride at lunch? That's absolutely fine, if it helps you produce brilliant work that afternoon.

By Toby Southgate

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


The realities of maintaining a work-life balance have always been challenging. But, better integrating the two concepts is the solution. Managing the way we work both inside and outside of our traditional working day is not only possible, but ultimately beneficial, for most people. And, because of technological advancements and changing attitudes in work-life balance, we've actually become wired for integration.

Related: In Defense of Work-Life Balance

Generally, these are all good things, if you consider the creatively oriented thinkers, makers, advisors and managers staffing industries these days. On the whole, their reaction to a higher degree of autonomy has been a greater commitment and productivity: Combining work and life in more free and flexible ways has become the path to happier employees and stronger businesses.

Yet, we still have to be cautious, because integration and the means for achieving it is a personal issue -- what works for one person won't necessarily work for another. That's why, as the CEO of a global organization, I've encouraged not only innovation and productivity, but also better integration. Here are the steps I recommend:

Introducing integration

Change of any kind can be tough on companies and their employees. Reactions such as lethargy, unwillingness to try something new and phrases like "we don't do it that way" are poisonous. This is especially true when you're trying to build a company culture that embraces integration.

Related: 5 Simple Ways to Improve Your Work-Life Balance

That's why the work environment must be built on trust and space. The goal here is simple: to ensure that your company is a place where output and results are judged above time served. This type of workspace usually includes:

  • Strong communication: There is no such thing as over-communication if you're trying to move a business through a period of transformation. The path to encouraging integration should feel collaborative. Nor does it need to include everyone. Start with a small group of standout employees who have a history of affecting change, and make them your advocates. That will allow a more organic cultural change. If you don't communicate and instead try to do it all yourself, you'll have no chance.
  • Constant empowerment: As a CEO, I'm empowered to recognize what my company needs, to ensure that everyone is productive and effective. However, enabling that same degree of empowerment in others is a management skill in and of itself, and a cultural asset, especially when your're trying to achieve better work-life balance.

It's amazing how quickly cultures can morph to embrace diverse working practices. We're not still in school, after all. If you want to change into some Lycra tights and head out for a 5-mile bike ride at lunchtime, go for it.

And if that ride enables you to produce brilliant work in the afternoon, it's better that you're lapping Central Park than grumpily chewing a bagel at your desk. By breaking work-life balance norms and building flexible cultures, businesses like Netflix, Zappos and Uniqlo have all thrived through the employee empowerment they've offered.

Saving time

I personally have three points of focus to better maximize my time that could also benefit employees looking for better integration.

Email: I keep regular office hours, but also spend time at the beginning and end of a working day dropping off and picking up my kids from school. To do that, I check and respond to emails outside of the office at dedicated time slots. One might involve a quiet coffee on my own in the morning, when I prioritize emails needing my response, or 30 to 60 minutes at the end of the day.

I also believe in the time-quality dynamic when it comes to responses. I'll accept a response back of "Yes," "Sure, I'm on it" or "No way we can make that, sorry." A three-day time lag that ultimately produces a three-paragraph excuse for the slow reply and an equally lengthy explanation? Incredibly unhelpful.

Office time management: Whatever it takes to avoid meeting fatigue, I'm game: standing meetings. 15-minute meetings. Meetings with no written notes. Walk-in-the-park meetings. I haven't formally instituted these practices across our entire agency, but I was inspired by Percolate's 6 Meeting Rules, which were created as that company grew from a startup to a success. Rule number one, for example, is, "Do you really need a meeting?" Asking that question in advance has produced remarkable results.

Travel and remote work: Our business runs across 24 offices and every time zone, which means an integrated schedule for me and other employees who travel frequently. I am always prepared to spend a night on an airplane to get home to have breakfast with my family, or take a 10 p.m. conference call with colleagues in Hong Kong to be around for bath time and stories with my kids. These compromises and so many others, are the mark of an integrated life.

Just "let them get on with it"

By introducing integration, your message to employees becomes: "You're great at what you do. We know you want to be better. You're here because you have a lot to add to the business and to your colleagues. Get to it."

A company invested in improving work-life balance should support its employees and enable them to manage their work and personal lives to the best of their abilities. By adopting integration, companies lay down a challenge that people will accept. Those companies should also be identifying employees who don't, won't or can't work without that type of empowerment. That's fine, too.

David Abbott, the British ad man who built one of the very best creative businesses of the last 50 years, said it best: "Hire good people and let them get on with it."

If you -- or your systems, processes, promotion and reward assessments and 196-page "employee policy" documents -- don't allow those employees to customize their own path to create a more flexible relationship between their work and personal lives, then you may as well not have "good people" in the first place.

Related: 5 Secrets to Achieving and Maintaining Work-Life Balance

The keys, once again, are trust and integration.

Wavy Line
Toby Southgate

Worldwide CEO, Brand Union

Toby Southgate leads the growth of Brand Union across each of its 24 markets, managing all of the international teams, leading collaboration with other WPP agencies and delivering on the agency’s 'Brilliantly Designed and Beautifully Connected' ideal. During his six-year tenure, Southgate has been part of Brand Union’s leadership teams in Europe, the Middle East, and North America. Previously based in London, he drove the agency’s UK and Ireland business, by establishing and developing global client relationships with Vodafone, GSK and RBS Group; and expanding the agency’s digital capabilities. Southgate, born in London and educated at Millfield School and the University of Edinburgh where he studied economics and history, has lived in six countries.

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