Cartoon of working mother attending a business video conference with little son interrupting
iStock/Aleutie

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Most of us would say we’d like a healthier work-life balance. But what about work-life integration?

As in many countries, COVID-19 brought Japan a completely new look at work and life. Against many odds, Japanese businessmen and women, who are known for their dedication to time in the office, coped well with—even enjoyed—working from home.

Still, it was a great surprise when Hitachi (after a successful practice round with 33,000 employees) announced its decision to make telework the standard going forward. Other companies in Japan and around the world did the same, some going further to leverage the opportunities of pandemic disruption for a new age of work, testing out the four-day workweek, increased paternity leave, mental health support, and other measures. Flexible work options have become paramount. The Great Resignation has proven people aren’t afraid of leaving the workforce to find their ideal corporate culture.

However surprising this was at first, we can now see that we’ve stepped into unprecedented era: The Age of Work-Life Integration.

We used to believe that we needed work-life balance, as if work and life were independent variables. For working women with families, this has always been a particular challenge. But in the new era, work and life will no longer be separate. Rather, they will be tightly woven into every moment of our daily lives. This will be a fairly significant change for many of us. To successfully transition into the Age of Work-Life Integration, we’ll need to embrace three principles.

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1. Follow your women.

Working mothers are ahead of the curve at last.

In Japan, traditional gender roles are still alive and well. Men take the responsibility of full-time breadwinner, and wives keep their work flexible to more easily respond to home needs. This segregation of duties and lack of gender equality has been the primary cause of women lagging professionally and economically in Japanese society.

But now, thanks to COVID-19 quarantine, wives have suddenly gained the ability to merge work and life—and pivot between them at any moment.

For the first time in modern Japanese history, women are ahead of the curve of a significant social change. The flexibility that wives—and women in general—have developed under the adversity of gender roles has given them the skillset and mindset of independent, task-driven professionals. Women just get things done.

Meanwhile, husbands—really, men in general—are tied up in the interdependency of traditional large corporations where relationships matter much more than getting things done. It will take some time to overcome the fear of losing the “membership” that they have worked so hard for. But, as we’ve seen with increased paternity leave and other forward-thinking benefits for men, the benefits of having a personal life can be addictive. Women and men both deserve time with their families.

But husbands will struggle with the learning curve at first. Wives are ready to take it on—and ready to lead the way.

Women Empowerment: Lessons from Cartier

How can women overcome gender inequality and reach their leadership goals? Cartier Japan CEO June Miyachi shares her secret in this special course from GLOBIS Unlimited.

2. Manage your home just like your work.

Parents have opportunities ahead.

Home is the center of everything now that we are there (or here) full time, 24/7. It’s no longer a hideaway from work. But that means now is the perfect time to make use of business management concepts for a more productive life at home.

Project management skills can help organize everyday chores. Families can use periodic meetings to stay updated (even keep minutes!). We should give effective feedback and help each other grow. These business management skills—and others—will likely find a more extensive application to both work and family life.

Especially for teens.

Teens, in particular, are facing the reality of work-life integration, as they stand on the brink of joining the global workforce from home. That means parents can help shape the foundation of successful careers and family life in the new era. According to the Harvard Business Review, daughters with dads who do their fair share of domestic tasks are more likely to pursue career aspirations (often in less stereotypical occupations) with more self-esteem and autonomy. Sons benefit as well, gaining a more egalitarian perspective of gender roles at home and work.

In short, parents can use their career-earned talent development skills to help their kids become work-life integration ready.

Pie chart showing the division of work-life integration while working from home
Work-life integration will create a new dynamic for family and time management. | iStock/Aleutie

3. Build your work around the life you love.

We can all stay connected and work from our dream home.

Loss of a physical office is giving many people around the world freedom to make their dream home a reality. According to Business Insider, a third of tech workers around San Francisco say they’d consider leaving the Bay Area if they could permanently work remotely—even if it meant a pay cut. It is a logical choice, considering the significant reduction in rents and increase in quality of life in less-crowded neighborhoods.

The same movement may soon come to Japan.

The Age of Work-Life Integration will be all about clarity: clarity in our values and in our priorities. The old way of building our lives around work is over. It’s the other way around now. Making a sustainable choice means satisfying all three critical elements of can, need, and want—not only for a career, but for life, as well.

What seemed like a big, scary new world of change is already transforming into a reality many of us wondered how we ever lived without. The Age of Work-Life Integration is the real beginning of a more authentic life—for people in Japan and everywhere.

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