Work-life balance. It's the subject of ongoing studies that make headlines in industrialized countries around the world. But the New Economics Foundation (nef) is putting a new twist on the topic by suggesting a 21-hour workweek could be the answer to work-life balance – and much more.

In the final segment of this five-part series on "Work-Life Balance and the Virtual Office," we're going to take a closing look at key points nef made in its study called 21 hours. The study explores how a 21-hour workweek could, among other benefits, spur a robust and prosperous economy, give people more time to care for children, and ultimately lead to stronger public services. Let's look at these three aspects of the study and see how virtual offices fit into these benefits.

Robust and Prosperous Economy
A 21-hour workweek could bring more women into the workforce and give men an opportunity to live more balanced lives, according to the nef study. A 21-hour workweek would also reduce stress, nef says, because employees wouldn't have to juggle work with home responsibilities and family commitments.

Nef also pointed to evidence that suggests people who work shorter hours are more productive, hour for hour. A 21-hour workweek would also put an end to one of the main causes of the credit crunch – the consumer debt bubble – by moving from an economy based on consumerism and economic growth, to one based around stability, resilience and adaptability, nef concludes.

Caring for Children
Here's an interesting calculation: If you put a price tag on the average time spent on housework and caring for children and adults in 2005, it would be worth nearly £253.7 billion. That equals 21 percent of the British Gross Domestic Product for that year. "By moving towards a 21-hour week," nef says, "unpaid care and housework would be seen as equally valued and important as paid employment, and men could take a more equal share of these home-based tasks."

Finally, nef suggests a 21-hour workweek would breed stronger public services. A 21-hour workweek would give people more time to care for each other, spend with children, stay healthy and contribute to neighborhood activities. As nef sees it, workers could partner with the public sector to become co-producers of public services.

Virtual Offices Breed Benefits

With all of this in mind, could it be possible that the virtual office will become a facilitator of the 21-hour workweek? I think it is possible. Although a 21-hour workweek might seem impossible to some, a virtual office could, at the least, help employees do more in less time – and do it from the homefront so they could be more available for children and family.

A virtual office space, for example, gives employees the flexibility to work several hours in the morning, take a break in the middle of the day to deal with household, health and family issues, then work again in the evening. Virtual assistants and virtual receptionists can help bear the load and keep business moving while workers are tending to personal matters that breed stronger work-life balance.

In conclusion, although a 21-hour workweek seems nearly impossible in a society that's driven to productivity, it is possible that spreading the work among families – where men and women both work and both help care for family – could benefit the society. Virtual office technologies could play a key role in this transition if and when it happens.