The Always ON Society – Mobile Technology Disruption on Work and Life

With the advent of the ‘smart’ phone (and I still stand by my opinion that it is only as smart as the user), the boundary between work and life has blurred and has a sort of permeability that leaks both confines into the other spheres. No longer are these domains separate and no longer can one ‘go home’ as work follows. There is a flexibility that allows work to be done when the user is able to allocate attention and to also connect with life and family roles while on the go. The debate rages whether connection through ICT is a real connection, the kind of connection that meets human needs on a deeper more meaningful level.

Should social media be banned for children? Many think so. Brain development, socialization skills and self-esteem are paramount to a healthy outlook on life. These can only take place as evolution has had us do – to survive by being good social creatures which means inter-personal interaction. The personal time needed for rest and renewal can give way to the pressure to work everywhere, every time.

There are perceived differences in the importance to work life balance. One factor is generational – the older generations put less on the use of information communications technology (ICT) and those with spouses and families have more responsibility to be with people (Nam, 2014).

There is a lot of awareness now on re-aligning? re-capturing? one’s ‘life’ in all this hurried pace of work. Google has launched a leadership program using mindfulness called ‘Search Inside Yourself’. Another growing movement is the Slow Movement – just like the idea of fast food versus slow food, it is about life and leisure and regaining the idea of allowing special moments in life, the kind that inform our character and induce a state of flow.

And this is what it comes down to – can we achieve those characterful moments defined as ‘states of flow’ (and I will tip my hat to the author of ‘Flow’, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) when using technology? Use of technology is a highly rationalized activity, although there are creative outlets that technology can produce, the use of technology, the mechanics of the interaction are still rational. As I write I am applying critical and creative thinking at the same time my brain is coordinating my hunt and peck fingers to punch keys and observe the mistakes being redlined that I must backspace and undo – hardly an artistic process. This constant surveillance of the technology keeps me from being fully into my writing and most likely hinders the flow that my brain craves.

There are six recommendations from the Nam article that could assist managers to help their employees in obtaining work-life balance:

  • Develop periodic evaluations
  • Know how much technology use is necessary for introducing flex-time
  • Each employee regulates their work-life balance differently – allow for flexibility
  • Employees view technology as either integrative or segmentative – neither are wrong
  • Technology introduces permeability but the manager must introduce flexibility – develop policies around permeability
  • Be aware of the generational gap – younger prefer life at work culture and older generations are less flexible allowing their life to spill into work and vice versa

Hope this helps you to design a working structure to bring more flow and balance to your organization.

References

Nam, T. 2014. Technology Use and Work-Life Balance. Applied Quality Life. 9:1017-1040

About the Author:

Christopher Caldwell is an adviser, author and educator in organizational sustainability, leadership and change.