In the past twenty years the term “work-life balance” has come to symbolize the problem many face with increasing work pressures and the neglect of family, friends and their hobbies. This has created not only many health problems like cardiovascular disease, a weaker immune system, frequent headaches, backache to name but a few, but also social problems in areas like child-care, care for relatives, increase in divorces and other symptoms of a social fabric breakdown.
For women the situation is even worse, not only do they have all of the above mentioned problems, but by making the conscious decision to raise a family they also have to pay a penalty when the return to work. However well qualified, after only 3 to 5 years on parent leave, they find it very hard to get even close to the positions they held before. They are penalized for having a family and this causes additional stress and anxiety.
In the last ten years I have watched an encouraging trend, people opting out of the corporate treadmill, with much success. Many are starting small businesses or home businesses, freelancers, self-employed, contractors, professionals in all small business areas setting up shop.
The reasons for this are quite predictable:
- No safe employment environment, even in big corporations.
- Desire to look after kids, family or friends.
- Deliberate choice to live with less consumerism.
- Have a more flexible work environment, to suit ones needs better.
Subsequently, for me at least, the “work-life balance” has entered into a new phase, Work-Life Balance 2.0 if you like. No only are the above mentioned facts important, but now the participants in this work-life revolution are far more focused on their life and the choices they make, more demands are actively pursued even in the home working or small office environment, to maximize financial results while optimizing the work-life balance:
- Focus on core business competence,
- Outsourcing techniques even for the smallest of businesses,
- Independence and freedom of workplace and time constraints,
- Environment issues are beginning to be a important lifestyle choice too,
- Private priorities often dominate over work priorities.
In this new established work-life environment, family – especially children, health, environment and personal fulfillment are beginning to transform the way we all think about work. I foresee long needed changes in the social fabric of our society and the reversal of detrimental trends which have started in some cases over 150 years ago.
As more and more people work from home, it is no longer necessary to move to the big city to earn a living and pay inflated prices for the privilege. It is quite feasible to work from anywhere, even from a parents home, if need be. This will not only deal with problems for the younger generation to get onto the “property ladder“, but may in time re-establish the multi-generation household with all it’s social benefits of care for the elderly, or supervision of children by grandparents, while the parent is in the “home-office” earning a living.
These changes may also prove beneficial for local communities, as more business potential will return to rural areas. Local shops and businesses will receive new business revenue and local communities will begin to prosper again.
We no longer use our work environment as our social-interaction-generator, our organically grown social networks will embed us all into functioning local social infrastructures, which are so important for our mental well being.
When I built my first 64 kbits Frankfurt – New York IP-network in the early nineties – I was ecstatic and I knew things where about to change, I had no idea exactly how much they would change, because of what I and many others around the world were doing. The internet, broadband, web-applications and cheaper computer hardware have enabled users to work from anywhere, enabled software developers like us to develop our Small Business Infrastructure, enabling small business in every corner of the developed and even in parts of the third world to run a small business effectively. This in turn is the reason for the phenomenal and explosive growth in small business activity we have been witnessing of the past decade.
We still have challenges ahead of us, like our political leaders need to do more than try and convince us all that the current up-turn in small business activity is due to their intervention, nothing could be further from the truth, IMO. They need to remove the red-tape barriers for small business and start-up business, like SOHO-, SME, SMB-, Micro-, Lifestyle-, Home-, DIY-, Hobby-, Boomer- or Personal business, like professional, contractors, freelancers, self-employed, sole-trader and virtual assistants, and with this allow anyone to participate in the working cycle, no matter how many hours someone is willing to work. The self-employed status has to be supported, just imagine the untapped work and intellectual resources, excluded from the work process by short sighted red-tape. Our economy has invested in the education of us all, only to exclude some parents or even disabled people from contributing to our economy.
It is my belief that we are just at the beginning of this trend and that most of the participants will enjoy a much better work-life balance, which will result in happier and more fulfilling social environments.
That is my vision for the future, what is yours? ST.