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Work-life integration proves popular with readers
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As I've stated often in this column, whether you're looking for balance or integration, you're trying to find something that works for you and your family. I feel like I'm getting closer to achieving that every day, and I hope the rest of you can do the same. - photo by Greg Kratz
When I started focusing my weekly writing on work-life balance a few years ago, I was asked to choose a catchy name for the column.

After kicking around several options, I chose "Balancing act." It seemed to capture the theme I wanted to explore, and a quick Google search didn't discover any other columns that had the same name.

Done and done.

But after the last few weeks, I'm starting to think a name change might be in order to integrate the latest work-life buzzword.

Looks to me like "integration" is the new name of the game, and several readers seem to agree.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a Fortune article by Laura Vanderkam that carried the headline, "Work-life balance is dead here's why that might be a good thing."

In that piece, Vanderkam wrote that people are increasingly rejecting the idea of work-life balance in favor of work-life integration. "Thanks to smartphones and remote work, moving work around on dimensions of time and space is not only possible, but its become the norm," she wrote.

I like the idea of integration, as I wrote at the time, as long as it doesn't become a code word for "work at the office all day and at home all night."

Several readers chimed in to say integration is also working for them, as they practice it to different degrees.

A reader named Steve wrote in an email that he has "found peace" in the integration mentality.

"For little chunks of time I take out of the typical eight-hour workday for personal reasons, I try to balance it out within a day or two by coming in early, or working through lunch, or staying a little late, or, sometimes, working a bit from home," Steve wrote. "I do check my email a few times a day from home but rarely respond to anything then. (Its definitely better to not set that expectation with co-workers!)

"Still, this idea of work-life integration, even if a little bit, feels the right way to live nowadays, based on the fact that we have always-on smartphones, employers that trust us, and we live in a world that doesnt punch the clock as much as it used to."

Good comments, Steve. I think you're right on the money. The idea of work-life integration wouldn't even be a consideration without the communication devices we have today. Smartphones can be both a blessing and a curse, but if they're used wisely, they're more the former than the latter.

But back to those reactions. A reader named Claire wrote in an email that she also pursues integration.

"I personally work on a flexible schedule as well," she wrote. "I always wake up and check/respond to emails while still in pajamas and get to the office by 9, then pack up at 4. But I always bring a lunch and work straight through the day and will often continue emails until after 5 and on weekends as necessary. It's nice to hear this integration works for others, too!"

Another reader, Vicki, wrote in an email that work-life integration helps her be more productive and effective in all aspects of life.

"One other strategy I find very helpful is working from home one day per workweek," she wrote. "I try to schedule doctor's appointments for that day, as well as any home maintenance appointments where someone needs to be here to answer the door. I find I miss less work because I don't have to take off early to make it to the appointments.

"Without a commute, I start my day earlier and can spend a bit more time with the kids. It's also incredibly helpful to be able to throw in a load of laundry or start cooking dinner earlier in the day. This gets those things out of the way and opens up more time for family activities on the weekend."

I'm a huge proponent of working from home when possible. While I don't manage to do that one day every week, I do telecommute at least once every three or four weeks.

I also have found that I can make excellent use of my work-from-home days in different ways. For instance, while I may take a short walk as a break while I'm at the office, I can use that same amount of time to wash a few dishes or do some laundry if I'm working from home. And, like Vicki, I've found that doing so helps free up more time for family later.

But not everyone's work-life integration will be the same, as another reader mentioned in a comment posted online.

"I think it's all job dependent really," this person wrote. "My wife is a private tutor, so while she teaches out of our home, she writes lesson plans and does paperwork at home. Sometimes it's during the day or while I'm at church meetings, sometimes it's while I'm taking some time to play a video game. For her job there's no real, tangible difference.

"I work in an office, fairly traditional, although here in the auto industry a lot of engineers and designers do an early start/early end to the day. I usually do 7:30-4:30. I design lights for cars, (and) that involves a lot of running simulations on my computer. For long weekends, that means I usually bring along my computer and spend an hour or so a day setting them up and running them while we're off having fun.

"During the week, especially at crunch time, I'll often remote into my work computer to (start) something off and may kick out early if I have nothing to do but watch something run on my computer. It's all about what works for your job."

Exactly, good reader. As I've stated often in this column, whether you're looking for balance or integration, you're trying to find something that works for you and your family. I feel like I'm getting closer to achieving that every day, and I hope the rest of you can do the same.