Is There a Future for Work/Life Balance?

Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, created a stir at the SHRM conference in New Orleans this year by stating: “There’s no such thing as work-life balance. There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences.”

Organizations worry about being perceived as offering a good balance between work and personal time.

Many career sites and recruiters stress the ways the organization addresses this through flexible work policies, family-friendly HR polices, child care, and so on. And, for many job seekers, finding a company that offers this magic blend is the Holy Grail.

While Jack was addressing women specifically and speaking about their opportunities for promotion and growth within traditional corporate America, he was reinforcing this assumption. He was heavily criticized for talking to women in this way, even though it is an accurate reflection of the thinking in most of traditional corporate America.

My problem is not with Jack as much as it is with the assumptions that work/life balance is based on.

We assume that work and family should be separated and that there should somehow be an equal division between the two, which is implied in the word “balance.”

The concept of work and life being somehow distinct from each other is a recent construct. There was no work/life balance in the 17th, 18th, 19th, or for most of the 20th centuries. Work and life were integrated and no one would have even thought to separate out what portion of farm life, for example, was “life” and what portion was “work.” Wives and husbands and children worked together as family units, producing food, clothing, or operating a small family business. Roles were assumed and cast off as needed and whoever had the ability or skill needed at a particular time did what was needed to be done.

In most of the world this is still the case. It is only in developed nations that these artificial distinctions arose to meet the needs of factories where everyone had to be in a physical place for certain time frames in order for things to be made. It took England and the United States decades to get people accustomed to going to work at a particular time and staying for a fixed amount of time. The way we work today has never been an organic or natural way, and our fixation recently on work/life balance is only the latest manifestation of an old issue.

Where I think Jack was misguided was in not recognizing how rapidly the traditional corporate world is crumbling. Organizations like Facebook, Mozilla, and hundreds of other emerging firms are organizing in radically different ways. They are focusing on interdependence, on building networks and fostering relations between workers, vendors, and customers. Innovative firms realize that flat structures and open communication improve creativity.

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So the good news is that many organizations are moving back into the world where work and life are integrated and where entire families may be part of the “team.” Technology makes this possible, and as high definition video, faster connections, and touch capabilities improve it will be easier and easier. At the most exciting startups, people are already seamlessly integrated into projects where roles frequently change as needs change and leadership rotates as project requirements evolve. Workers are able to be at home with their kids or spouse. They can be outdoors or indoors. And very often they can be physically far removed from the “office” whatever that is coming to mean. The emerging concept is that being in a certain place for a specific time is less important than achieving results and accomplishing goals.

While Baby Boomer managers are locked into the concept of physical space and time as keys to assessing contribution, younger workers have a different view. They realize that for personal as well as environmental and energy reasons, working from home is going to become the norm.

I am not downplaying how difficult it is to change the Baby Boomer attitude, but I am optimistic that as younger managers appear, as environmental pressures increase, and as younger organizations begin to generate significant revenue and employ more people, attitudes about work will change rapidly.

There will always remain work that requires physical presence — whether it is making something, caring for an ill person, or fixing your drainpipe. But less and less work requires a physical presence, and what remains may be done with greater flexibility and personalization than it is today. Our entire world rotates around an 80+ year-old concept that work is something done away from home, for a set amount of time, and should not be fun. Work is assumed to be only the means to have another life and as little of it as possible is good. The flip side to that is an assumption that work is what makes life meaningful and to do it with your partner, friends, or family is good. How many hours it takes to do it or where it gets done are far less important than the engagement and accomplishment.

Jack Welch was absolutely right if we are thinking about 20th century corporate life. However, Gen Y and those who follow are forging new territory and reinventing work — making it the engaging experience it should be where friends and families interact together all the time, teach each other, share workloads, and find emotional connections that have been purged from corporate life as we have known it.

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at


50 Comments on “Is There a Future for Work/Life Balance?

  1. Interesting. I dispute the idea that we crumbly old baby-boomers are locked into a division of work and “life” though. I, my siblings and many of my friends (aged 50+) have grown accustomed to being always on, always having some work process running and of having a multiply-threaded set of endevours. It may be that I hang out with pathological over-achievers.

    Here’s a question for the generation Y, z, alpha, beta… folks. Do you think you should be getting a monetary reward for all those things you do?

  2. Kevin

    The real point is not where you are but how much time you have to put in. If you work at home 90 hours a week, there is going to be very little work life balance.

    And guys like Jack Welch believe that being successful means long hours.

    So the hours are the issue not where you spend them – which is what you are talking about.

  3. Yes, I agree Animal that time is one of the main issues in work/life balance. But where you spend that time is also important. If you spend 90 hours at home with your wife and kids nearby, it proabably doesn’t feel the same as going to an office somewhere. You can take breaks, feed the kids and participate in family life in an integrated way. Farmers, for example, often spend way more hours working than an office worker does but they get to spend that time with their family. We segregate work from family life and this creates stress on the family, consumes often unnecessary energy, and saps creativity. Place is just as important as time, I think, and maybe more so.

  4. “We segregate work from family life and this creates stress on the family, consumes often unnecessary energy, and saps creativity.”

    I’m not sure I agree. In fact, I don’t. I have a group here on ERE (I know it’s a small sample) called Working From Home but I am continually amazed when people report (of ALL ages) that they’d “rather” work in an office environment – that in fact, getting AWAY from hearth and home is what energizes them and contributes to their energy.

    I have a friend who has remarked to me, in all honesty, “I don’t know how you work from home. If it was me I’d take naps all day.”

    I have a theory that a very small percent of the population is suited to being an entrepreneur and I think having an entrepreneurial spirit is pretty central to being able to successfully drive one’s work actions from home.

    Work obsession is a 20th century phenomenon that (mostly) benefits the companies that have the workaholics on board.
    Here’s another interesting (and older) article on that subject:

    Just think, if companies could transfer their overhead into the “homes” of people they used to provide roofs/heat/ac/phones/coffee/desk/chair/admin assts/liability insurance and everything else that goes into maintaining office environments – how much more profitabe they would be!

    Or would they?

    I have observed many people who have “lost” their jobs (first) in this downturn as being the ones who worked at home. I don’t think the old saying that “out of sight/out of mind” is too far off here. I think most managers (maybe they are still the baby boomers) WANT to see people working. It’ll be interesting to watch this play out.

    By the way, I applaud the new vision Kevin is championing here. Would that it could be all those things.

  5. Kevin, interesting article.

    A study of Jack Welch shows us that his successful run occurred between 1981 and 2001. Put simply, the 80s and 90s were a different time. While I grew up in the 80s (I was 14 in 1990), I remember how work and work/life balance was viewed during that time. As it’s already well popularized, there is no sense in me going into the Boomer mindset and the mindset of Boomer’s parents.

    During the 80s and 90s, it was a game of who had the most capital and resources. If you did, you could survive with Jack Welch’s mantra of being #1 or #2 in every market you occupy (or get out quickly). Markets are more fragmented today and success is not about massive accumulation of market share. Again, I digress.

    In my humble opinion, Jack is describing a sacrifice of your personal life in lieu of the corporate mission. If you listen closely, you can hear the the ghost of Henry Ford whispering in the background. Having employees give up their personal lives for 80+ hours per week was a key component of what helped explode GE’s market cap between 1981 and 2001. However, the closer you look, the more you can see cracks in the foundation. Jack’s personal life has never been one of great example, and arguably, his notion of ‘forced rankings’ often degraded morale disproportionately to the amount of value created.

    Success isn’t all about the title on your business card, or the position of your office in the building anymore. And the more tacit your position is, the less likely are to be bound by industrialization era constraints (i.e. being at the machine, 8:00 am prompt, to ensure a widget is popping out the other end of it.) It might be time for me to crack open Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations” again, as we’ve reached another inflection point he discusses.

  6. The elephant in the room here is social class.

    Those in the upper levels don’t expect to toil to any great degree, and when they do, it’s either an emergency (such as a war) or for sport.

    Jack Welch loves to ‘work’ long hours, but that ‘work’ consists of being driven and flown around from place to place, where he talks and people listen raptly, while in between he is treated to every luxury imaginable. His work/life balance favors “work” for no mysterious reason.

    The owners of any enterprise simply want the most production possible from their people- if work/life balance programs help achieve it, you will see them.

    There has always been a strong tension in America between those who “work” and those who work.

    It’s a world-class understatement to note that “there will always remain work that requires physical presence”. As much as we all would like to be “knowledge workers” the truth is that our society as currently built requires and will require vast amounts of raw labor to maintain.

    I see a world on its way where auto mechanics and plumbers and such are the new working aristocracy- out of sheer demographics and cultural influence (nobody’s mom dreams of them some day becoming an ace auto-tech).

    Work/Life balance can cut both ways; Jack Welch and his ilk are not likley to have an objective view of it.

  7. I agree with Animal: it’s not where you work, it’s how much you work that matters more to many people. I believe we should replace the concept of “Work-Life Balance” with the concept of “Work Life Boundaries”- if you’re always “on,” how can you be maximally effective? Research is showing that people can’t be extremely effective multi-taskers- that quality suffers when it’s attempted. I can imagine a scenario where substantially larger numbers of workers than at present are “on call’ for work, but when not “on” are not expected to do any work-related activities. Can you imagine the attraction to working at a company that said: “we will pay you a good FT salary and decent benefits, one of which is that we do not want you to work more than 35 hours/week. The rest is YOUR time.”



  8. I don’t believe it is necessarily one or the other of hours worked or where you spend them, it’s more about how much freedom to CHOOSE you have.

    Stress and resentment in workers will mostly occur when a person works in contravention of what that individual regards as a reasonable work/life balance, because they have to. And by ‘have to’ I mean in the context of keeping their job, delivering results, everyone else in the company is doing it etc.

    Nothing saps morale in people faster than a sense of powerlessness.

  9. I completely agree with Jack Welches’ “consequences” comment, but perhaps from a different perspective. We each make choices and we know (for the most part) what will come from it in our lives. This is the fundamental principle of work life “balance”. It is up to us to choose locations, activities, and companies that match our needs and preferences. Ultimately I feel because of this that the principle is miss-named. There is no such thing as balance. We are a single person with many demands. It is a result of our choices that determines what we have time for …or don’t. If we have chosen a career that requires 80hrs per week then we have made the choice to have that as our life, perhaps in hopes of an entry to greater things. We always have choices. But as the saying goes with power comes great responsibility.

    This is definitely where we come into play as recruiters. We are able to give the information to the candidates to help them make those choices. I think this is a huge part of why we provide this information in our job descriptions and promotional information.

    I also have a comment about working from home. (Maureen you hit it on the money here.) I do not see Generation Y (and part of Generation X) as being intrinsically motivated individuals. I also do not see a majority of the workforce in positions that they wake up yearning for. (I know this is what we are reaching for, but it is not here yet.) I think this motivation and love of your job are a huge parts of being successful when working from home. It is so easy to get distracted when you can see your unvacuumed floor or the pile of laundry that needs to get done. It is also difficult when you find your work less interesting then the newest episode of something on the Food Network. I think it is a very distinct part of the population that can do this successfully despite challenging circumstances.

    I think the push to work from home is just another swing of the pendulum. I think the bigger picture is that these technological advancements allow us to work from varying locations while still building and establishing teams. Moving work to the “home base” is a very small part of this picture. I personally feel this is where the creativity of organizations are really tested. Can they manage to be a team despite the severed physical ties? This is what will truly differentiate leaders in organizations and organizations overall success. I feel this should be more the focus of discussion rather then moving individuals to their homes.

    Those are just my two cents.

  10. Kirin, you’ve piqued my curiosity – why do you suggest the following:
    “I do not see Generation Y (and part of Generation X) as being intrinsically motivated individuals.”

    I’m a late Gen-X, early Gen-Y, so you have my ear. In my estimation, each generation says the one after them is lazier, less thoughtful, “not as good as” their own. I think this stems from some competitiveness in human nature. Boomers probably caught this the worst as they were the first generation to truly ‘rebel’ from social norms, notably the 50s family structure they were raised within. Questioning the government was even considered “Un-American”. While I wasn’t raised during those times, I listen to (and respect) my elders and can appreciate the video excerpts and such I see relating to the Vietnam War, etc. My Father is in his early 50s and I find myself asking him about what things were like during his time – if anything, the music and Muscle Cars are timeless 🙂

    As far as most people not “loving their jobs”, I imagine the lionshare people fall into this category, regardless of generation. If I had to work at a machine during the Industrialization Era, I probably wouldn’t have loved my job either. Luckily for me, we’re now a service-based economy, so I’m fortunate and don’t take this fact for granted.

    What I find most interesting about Gen-Y and Millenials is how Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) will continue to affect what we perceive to be “leadership”. With a further decentralizing economy, it’s my contention that younger generations today aren’t being raised with the Jack Welch brick-and-mortar, fortress Corp HQ mindset. I can tell you that these games are positively influencing the battlefield from a military perspective. I may be wrong, but I can see modern business following suit.

    Only time will tell 🙂 Thanks for the post and I’d appreciate your thoughts on the intrinsic motivation of Gen-X and Gen-Y. You have my ear on this one.

  11. Joshua I always enjoy your point of view and I totally agree that the old models are fading fast- look at what used to be considered ‘job-hopping’ – 3 or 4 roles in 10 years. Now you would ask why so slow ? MMORPG’s are no doubt precursors to serious virtual teamwork and new org structures……

    When I re-read my comment I thought that I was not clear on something important: lots of people do lots of taxing mental work everyday in ‘knowledge’ fields, but I group that in under the “those who toil” v. those who really don’t… at some level (and it’s not that high) the perks start to dominate and you are no longer among the real working class…..

  12. Martin, fully agreed and you make very interesting points – my post was most about Kirin’s thought on intrinsic motivation. It really made me think.

    By the way, I tried to find your email to drop you a line about your comment, “I see a world on its way where auto mechanics and plumbers and such are the new working aristocracy- out of sheer demographics and cultural influence (nobody’s mom dreams of them some day becoming an ace auto-tech).” [I realized I would have to find you in the ERE community area since I couldn’t click your name here to send you a message.]

    Between you and I, I am seeing your point more and more every day. There is some serious $$$ in what some might call a “trade”. Who would have thought? 🙂 You’re right that the pendulum has swung!

  13. As a”boomer” in a foreign land (the land of millennial, GenY & GenX colleagues) I agree that the generations view the world differently. My GenY boss thinks I am summed in this video That said, it may be just that I at a different stage in life—I am a grandfather, and my colleagues are becoming parents. I also think that if we limit the conversation to a life work balance to just the home and office conversation, we limit the complexity of the discussion.

    A few years back I began to subscribe to the idea that it is not so much an idea of work life balance, but more about the respective “lifes” competing for time. Most of us have competing “lifes” of a person life, a family life, a community life, a work life, and a spiritual life. Much of the time, it doesn’t feel like a balancing act, as opposed to a juggling act with the respective segments “balls“ that we are trying to keep in the air. A life that is fully lived out will probably contain aspects of each sector with different sectors getting more time than others. There will be times that work (special projects, etc) may take priority. There will be a time that family life (birth of a child, vacation) will be a priority. Other times, personal life (an ERE Conference in Florida) may be a priority.

    So in my world, my colleagues (Millennial, GenY & GenX) live very active lives. They are incredible recruiters in a very tough environment. Many are new parents and have added that dimension to their lives. Most give back to society in some way—either by volunteering for a cause that they are passionate about or through Microsoft’s Giving Program. In fact, they seem to be active in each sector of their life. My biggest surprise in joining Microsoft is that people had time for each sector of their life. The Microsoft I joined is not comprised of people sleeping in their offices, but rather a group of hard working folks that have a good handle on how to live life to its fullest.

    What does this have to do with a retired CEO who reinvented himself as a consultant (and retained by a large software company) who travels the world (with a new and much younger wife) dropping little gems of wisdom at HR conferences? I agree with Jack there isn’t just a work life balance issue—it is series of choices (with consequences) that we make that have an impact on the various sectors of our life. But if Jack is suggesting that today’s business women cannot not have it all—he needs to meet my colleagues.

  14. Marvin your focus on the gender aspect of so-called work/life balance is appreciated. In our family, we both take responsibility to support each other’s careers- mainly thru child care arrangements, but in other ways too, such as integrating ourselves into our spouse’s work community (yes, it’s important for career development in many cases to participate in the quasi-social milieu of a workplace- and that extends to sig others) and flexing when either of our jobs requires odd hours, travel, etc.

    In many cases as an employer or recruiter, you are dealing not with an employee, but with an independent partnership. I have often experienced cues just the look in the eye of a husband or girlfriend about how something work related was coming across. The issue of handling those relationships and working them into recruiting situations (esp. relocations) is probably worth a book or two on its own…..

    I dont think it has to be said (does it?) that the common good of society demands that employers help reduce stresses on families to a reasonable degree…..

    Do we have a common good anymore ?

  15. Very interesting comments. But get of the different generation kick when it come to work style and almost everything else. It is not about generations it is about how you like to work and how you want to be treated. There are people/workers of every generation who want to separate work and family and there are workers of every generation in all types of job who work and family all run together. It is not a generation thing it is a personal thing about the way one want to work, communicate and live.

  16. Great post and discussion. What do you see as the time horizon for this future to take hold? I think we’re 10-15 years out, based on the economy delaying baby boomer retirement, and the time it will take for people who see the world this way to get into leadership positions.

    As a teleworker myself, I can tell you that the future is here in some companies already, I’ve written my last couple of blog posts on how this works, which I won’t repeat here but you can read if you’re interested:

    Maureen, you are right in that working at home is right for some people and not for others. For a lot of people I know, they can’t imagine any other way than virtual, given the work-life balance. Just cutting out a commute easily gives you back an hour, two hours, or more a day to get more done at work or at home, depending on where you’re needed.

    On the other hand, even in the most progressive companies — Marvin, even at Microsoft, Google, Apple and others – location is still an important factor in filling jobs. The corporate headquarters is still the place where most jobs are located. How many hires are independent of where the person is located, without relocation being part of the deal? Companies will get access to a lot more talent when location becomes a non-issue. That’s when the real competition for talent will begin.

  17. This is very interesting, Stephanie. To your knowledge, have HP or any other companies done detailed analysis of what jobs are suitable for FT or PT telecommuting? With mobile recruiting applications and real-time broadband video, what types of recruiting-related activities will require an actual onsite physical presence?

    Also, according to this ( 14% of jobs as of 2006 could be converted to telecommuting, and according to *this ( a telecommuting position saves an employer $20,000 over an equivalent non-telecommuting position. Based on this it seems managers should need solid reasons to justify why NOT to have a TC position in a case where it seems suitable, as opposed to having to justify FOR it.


    Keith H

    *The paper also explains that TC can reduce offshoring, if a commitment can be made to increase telecom infrastructure/broadband access in low-cost U.S. locations.

  18. Congratulations for a refreshing point of view on the integration of work and personal life. Here are some thoughts I wrote elsewhere recently:
    -We are finally getting closer to the day when employers see employees as more than
    ‘workplace resources’.

    Money always has been only one (albeit important) part of the employee’s quality of life deal.
    Ever since the industrial age, business has employed the whole person, not simply
    their role as ‘a workplace resource’.

    Work is only one part of our 24/7 day and of our stress.
    Personal life and personal goals have everything to do with job choices, work productivity
    and commitment to corporate goals.

    We carry all of our emotional baggage 24/7 affecting everything we do at work, home and
    even at play.
    Just like any other purchase, people ‘buy’ jobs to meet their own needs, and only secondarily
    to meet the corporate aims of the employer. The sales package has to serve a person’s 24/7

    needs and lifetime goals.

    I would suggest it’s time to change the expression ‘human resource management’ to one of

    ‘people investment management’.

  19. Peter I think you are right on when you talk about people investment management. The fact of the matter is that employees are really investors. They have decide to invest their time in an organization.Just as their are smart investors and dumb investors when it comes to money the same is true about employee investors.

  20. Hi Mel…and the reverse applies. Employers are investing in people to employ and sometimes they are smart and sometimes they are dumb! 🙂 Their dividend or otherwise appears in the effect their people investment has on the business’s bottom line.

  21. Here’s something nobody is talking about: health care.

    No, not that health care of course, but health care for your car.

    From our first years in business we noticed that other than health/family issues, the number one reason people missed work was auto related. Not only that, but a problem with the car seemed to involve lots of hassle for the victims for repairs, maintenance, rides, etc. Throw in the spousal wheels, and it was hours per month.

    So we hired a kid to do oil changes, wash cars, drive them to and fro to repair and tire shops, etc. The kid attended an auto-tech institute to become a certified mechanic, and he is still with us. Our storage areas look like a NASCAR outfit- tires especially since we enjoy snow tires (a whole other story) for the fleet.

    Vehicles are becoming more complex- nearly aircraft like in their engineering and systems, so extended warranties (i.e. health insurance) may be another option if they can be paid for with tax-advantaged dollars. I don’t know how many thousands of dollars or hundreds of hours have been saved for company employees or in operating our company vehicles (the 15 passenger van is a must-have feature) but it’s an investment I highly recommend for better work/life balance.

    Progressive thinking in work /life means extending perks that actively make life easier to more members of organizations- and provides a twofold benefit- helping the life side and the work side at the same time.

    Oh yea, vehicles that drive themselves may be the next giant technical revolution….. that’s going to be interesting.

  22. Martin:

    I have to say I am glad I am following this article and all of the comment. Your comment about car care is wonderful. Hope you do not mind if I pick up the item and put in on my blog.


  23. Although the article is titled work/life balance–that really is not what is being discussed. Work/life balancing is exactly that–balancing one’s work and one’s personal life. What the article is really focusing on is a “flexible work schedule” which is something quite different. There is definitely a misconception that because one works at home one automatically has a better work/life balance, or that an individual has more time to devote to family because s/he is working at home–this is definitely not true. A person may be able to adjust his/her schedule to work earlier in the day or later in the evening. But if the demands of the job require tele or video conferencing during the day, meetings with clients, etc. Those responsibilities cannot be disregarded because of a little league game.

    I was very surprised at the baby boomers comment, which is as much a fallacy as saying baby boomers did not grow up in the technology age, so they have yet to embrace technology.

    I have worked with managers of varying ages, and age is definitely not a common denominator about accepting telecommuting or flexible schedules. It has more to do with an individual’s ability and confidence in his/her managerial abilities–not age.

  24. Keith,
    Yes, and often times the decision is made on a lot of additional factors, with some jobs being more office-based than others. To your point, a lot of recruiters work virtually because the technology makes it possible, but depends on the country and culture. For any job, it really comes down to whether the work lends itself to telecommuting or is better performed in the office, and different workgroups or managers may have differing views on that.

    Those are great articles, thanks! Looks like my time horizon estimate is right, based on the ITIF article.


  25. Thanks to everyone for your thoughtful and provocative comments.

    I agree that for the next 3-5 years people will more or less work as they have with a growing mix of telecommuting and flexible schedules. Certainly the Boomers and Gen xers will argue for, promote and try to maintain the status quo. They have built their lives around the assumptions that world is based on (time, place, etc.) and change is tough.

    What I am reading between the lines from many of the comments here and from others I speak with is the normal and very human fear of change. It is hard to imagine a world where we do not go to a workplace. It is hard to imagine a world where performance is not based on putting in time. It is hard to imagine being around the wife/husband/kids all day.

    We are already seeing that the world of blended life and work is changing the reason for a spouse and the criteria for choosing a spouse. This new work world will make the decision about having children a more difficult one than it is today.

    But that world is coming. The workers who are about to arrive on the scene– those in college today — are already worrying about having to enter this time constrained, physical workplace and will look for opportunities where they don’t have to.

    Marriage rates have declined and so has the birthrate. New choices are new ways of living are emerging as fast as new ways of work.

    Organizations offering work-from-home opportunities, virtual collaborative projects, and results-based pay will rapidly hire the enterepreneurial graduates and be able to forge ahead of their traditional competition.

    The basis of competition is changing. The best employees may well not be those who got the top grades and followed the traditional academic paths, but those who were experimental, daring and willing to try a different path.

    Sure, many of us will hang on to the way we work today but the few and the brave will embrace the emerging new world of work.

  26. Thanks for the good word Mel- by all means link away 🙂

    Kevin, two questions:

    1) Isn’t this about more than just working virtually: arent we talking about the autonomy to schedule around that little league game take a 10 min call at the game, or do what needs to be done to serve both masters ?

    2) Is it a proven notion that virtual teams of the best and the brightest will actually outperform more traditional or hybrid teams, who share physical space and all of the sub rosa social interactions that lead to esprit de corps and effective leadership?

  27. Martin,

    1. Yes, it’s about an entire change in the way we think about work. Instead of compartmentalizing work and separating it from fun, family, etc. I beleive work will become integrated/intertwined or whatever we want to call it into the fabric of family life. And that won’t be perceived as bad.

    2. Proven, no. But are there high performing virtual teams? Sure. Ask Cisco, Google and a hundred other companies with distributed, virtual work. Easy to make happen? No. Frought with difficulties? Yes. We are just getting started in this new way of working and we have a lot to learn. The first factories weren’t very efficient either.

  28. Martin, great questions that closely mirror my own.

    To question 1, the interesting thing here is that Kevin is discussing the potential dissolution of traditional time/space constraints . . . yet is focusing diligently on them. This could be a Boomer outlook that is not shared by late Gen-X, early Gen-Y. Such is an irony in and of itself because Boomers consciously consider the constraints . . . while newer generations don’t see these constraints as being quite so fixed. I often see Boomers writing articles or giving presentations that question traditional (business) norms with an introspective outlook . . . while late Gen-X and early Gen-Y seem to approach these topics as less introspective and more conscious reality.

    To question 2, what I find interesting is that the notion of the ‘American Organization’ no longer exists – there was a time when we could recruit the best talent around the world to come to work for organizations based here in the U.S. However, in the large majority of cases, the Global Economy has negated what used to be known as the ‘U.S. based organization.’ Geoffrey Colvin wrote a very interesting article about this phenomenon in 2005, “Can America Compete” (

    For me, an elephant in the room is that there are larger-scale RPO (or sourcing) firms that are heavily centralized in one location; they operate with fixed time and space constraints; one building, one suite of cubicles, etc.. Why? Because their HR Clients (typically Boomers at the decision making level) see them as more ‘legitimate’ enterprises because of their time/space constraints. While I am not focusing on this today, I have (in the past) established teams of Sourcers/Recruiters who were the best at what they did, yet worked at home. This telecommuting, heavily decentralized model worked better than the old-school COE (Center of Excellence) model . . . yet the decision makers were often more comfortable conforming to traditional time/space constraints. Personally, I always asked myself why an organization would sacrifice results in lieu of these constraints, yet I came to acknowledge the realities of things we can’t change. It will take time – In my humble opinion, time/space perceptions may change slightly moving forward, but until the Boomers retire or are moved out of decision making capacity in HR, we will not see wider acceptance of decentralized Recruiting/Sourcing Models.

    Why? Because most Boomers don’t necessarily agree with Kevin. And in that sense, Kevin is a Boomer who is more thinking like late Gen-X, early Gen-Y, than the larger majority of the Boomer population.

    Kevin, kudos again for a very interesting article that has led to even more interesting discussion 🙂

  29. The discussion here cross over many threshholds, work life balance / choices, physical VS virtual locations, entreprenurial vs organizational etc.

    We all have to make choices, where to work, how hard, how long, etc – whether from home or a physical location away from home. We all have to make choices about our social and family lives, we all have to make choices and sometimes don’t know which will work best for us or our employers.

    As a “boomer” I feel that the “younger generations” believe that you can do anything on your own. This may be true but could you do it better as part of a team? Independent thought is great but collective thought in my opinion can acheive better results – who will play “devils advocate” on your ideas?

    I have worked in a “physical brick and mortar building” and I have worked from a home office. Either one had the tools I needed to accomplish my job. The difference is that you lose social connections, you lose some of the the motivational efforts that others can provide and sometimes their motivation gets you jump started even if it’s not focused on you.

    The “virtual world” is upon us – for better or worse. I see the high school students much less frequently together on the streets socializing – are they really that well connected by technology? Or is that the current myth? Less real life person to person physical interaction – good or bad? Marriage nuimbers going down, birth rates declining, I guess you still can’t make a baby over the internet – yet?

  30. Wow! Such a great discussion! My one concern is that it has become heavily focused on the physical aspects (home, workplace and related issues).

    I am interested in how a good mix of work and personal life interests can help us to survive and thrive under unavoidable prolonged excessive stress. The mere ability to “switch off” from stressful issues and enjoy a passionate personal interest has huge stress management values.

    While you can’t deficit-budget time, it’s possible to deficit-budget mental energy. A few minutes a day can sustain energy for long periods of time, so long as those minutes are spent doing something that enjoyably expresses the your true self, simply because it makes you feel good about yourself. It’s about choices of where you allocate your mental energies.

    What sort of interests might these be? Each person will have unique answers. You can read an article of mine on this at

  31. Peter:

    a great discussion indeed. Couple of points though. Historically one’s work has always been ultimately destructive. Think of Mark Twain’s description of gold mining in the California rush or Engels writing about the cotton industry in Manchester in the 1840s. Traven on the Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Tressel’s Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. The very idea of a work-life balance is both post-industrial and Benedictine. That said..

    I come home from work full of anger and hate and the wish to crush a colleague. I pick up my guitar, check it is in tune and play one chord; just one chord. Peace, flowing like a river.The act of doing, of making music in its most personal form brings me back to the other part of humanity. We are such complex and complicated creatures.


  32. I totally agree with the sentence “The emerging concept is that being in a certain place for a specific time is less important than achieving results and accomplishing goals.” We don’t have to be “locked” in an office to get the work done, people are sick and tired of having some “boss” telling them what to do, when to do it, not having the time for their families – in todays world, we are basically living in our offices. But hey, it’s my personal opinion – some people like it that way – separated work/personal life, I prefer joining these two together.

  33. Hi Martina,

    I like boundaries, so I’m not on call 24X7. I don’t like the scenarios where “Work any 80 hrs/week you want, we’ll pay you for 40.”


  34. Keith, I’ve noticed some employers are expecting employees to be flexible while they (the employer) is not. The employer contacts people on their Blackberries at any hour of any day, and expects a fairly quick response — and doesn’t deliver much of a thanks — while at the same time, they have policies like a set number of sick days, broken down by things like 50% sick days for you, 50% for your kid’s illness, documentation may be required, etc.

    There are:
    A) employees who want some boundaries or limits – work time is work time and personal time is personal time.
    B) employees who want fewer boundaries – they have a career more than a job, a passion more than a paycheck, and all that. They think of ideas and ways to help their company or their industry in their sleep, in the shower – they enjoy it and don’t need to put it aside.

    But there sadly are companies, and I know some of them so they do exist, that expect a third type of employee, those who are:
    C) on call at most any time at night or on weekends – but ruled by policies, not able to handle personal matters when needed during the day, and micromanaged or just not insipired/motivated. That doesn’t work.

  35. Hi Keith,

    I agree there needs to be boundries – if you have a job, make sure you do it right – I’m just saying you don’t have to go to your office every single day to work for someone else. Better, have your own company (home based business) so you can work for yourself. That way you can include your whole family and share the responsibilities – connect personal and business life. My whole life, everyone in my family was working for some hudge companies, and weekends were the only days we could see eachother. Perhaps, that’s the reason I prefer working together with my family – at least, we can be together.

  36. @Todd: Well said. There also seems to be a tendency for “B” environments to slide over into “C” environments unless the ground rules are set. Also, as long as we have high unemployment, there will be little incentive for “c”s to change/improve.

    @Martina: I agree with you, I don’t think people should have to go in every day into the office. In fact as I maentioned- I don’t think they should have to go into the office unless there is some objective necessity for them to do so, or unless they want to. I do think the vast majority of people should be able to have days/times when they do not have to concern themselves with work.



  37. Well said, Robert. Also, if it can be done from anywhere, it will probably be done by someone making a lot less than you or I make.

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