Ina Opperman

By Ina Opperman

Business Journalist


Rather talk about authentic workspaces than work/life balance

We had the conversation about work/life balance, but that is not the issue in the workplace anymore. How much does flexibility matter?


We have to stop talking about work/life balance and start talking about authentic workspaces.

With the average South African spending 40 hours a week working, a third of our awake time, the term work/life balance has come to symbolise a behaviour where we are living more flexible lives, but this is not true.

On closer inspection we can quickly see this notion is a myth, a red herring, that is still based on the idea that our work and home lives occupy two opposing sections, divided by an invisible line that we can move to suit our daily activities, Paul Keursten, CEO and co-founder of Workshop17 that runs modern coworking locations, says.

“Life is not a pie chart. Moving this line or even blurring it, means taking away from one slice and adding to another, by compartmentalising our hours into work, relationships and self-care. Life is fluid, it flows towards work when on a deadline and shifts away from work when you are sick or training for a fitness goal, for example.”

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Striving for personal symmetry is a significant part of the change necessary to lead a holistic lifestyle but what is more important, is how to recognise for yourself, or provide for your employees, a healthy workplace that is not only conducive to a happier environment but will also increase productivity and growth.

Keursten believes personal workspaces should be a strategy built into the foundation of the HR company policy the same way that other benefits such as pension is. “If you work for a company, you must look at employee benefits through a new lens of care. At least for knowledge workers, the power dynamic has shifted and it now lies with the individual to choose where and how they will work.”

Your workspace and what it offers must inspire you, Keursten says. “Inspiration leads to dedication which in turn leads to excellence. The days of company mediocracy are over and the most profitable businesses know how to build on passion to keep their employees feeling alive and make the most of their talents.”

Companies must keep in mind that it is important to attract and retain the right people, that time is about quality and not quantity and that engagement matters.

Attract and retain the right people

Keursten says while South Africa’s unemployment rate is unproportionally high, a demand for the right industry talent remains. Attracting and retaining employee saves money, time, training and reputation.

“You have to provide a work environment that does not just tick the pay-check box, but rather aligns with individual values and resonates with their way of life, including sustainability, green energy, collaboration opportunities with like-minded people, wellness and beauty. No one should have to work in an ugly environment.”

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Time is about quality not quantity

“The rule-of-thumb that 20% of our activities accounts for 80% of our results is a clear indication that measuring our working hours by a time clock is an outdated philosophy,” Keursten says.

“Whether you choose to implement a four day work week space or a four hour workday, you must have systems in place that allow for easy work collaboration and sharing. This includes keeping meetings short, encouraging leave days and prioritising results over input time.”

Engagement matters

Keursten says when we are fully engaged in a situation, we bring our entire being to that moment. “Engagement in turn generates energy that allows us to show up as our best self in all areas of our life. A good coworking space allows us to shift our mindset constantly to a more positive one.”

Personal space and areas that encourage creativity, working with people that have a common goal to get things done, reducing stress related to connectivity or deadlines and encouraging networking for advice and support are part of an ecosystem that keeps us engaged and fulfilled, he says.

“As employees in the workspace, we must choose to put our mental and physical health first. As employers, we need to empower our teams with innovative spaces. No employee who works in fear will ever generate the best for the company. It is the flexibility of time and how work and private tasks fit together that allows us to manage what is important and live fuller lives.”

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