Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Some Thoughts on Technology's Impact on Work-Life Balance

iPhones galore

We've been pondering the impact of technology on the workplace every since watching Stefana Broadbent's short TED talk on "How the Internet Enables Intimacy."

Broadbent's research into how social media technologies enable us to blend our work and private lives and how that affects how people work got us thinking. She suggests that social media and our ability to send a loved one an SMS during the day bring intimacy to us at work.  Her overall view of social media in the workplace is positive. The separation between work and home life that began to take root with the Industrial Revolution is being significantly shifted. We're no longer isolated from our "real lives" when we're at work.  She cites companies who block access to Facebook and Skype (usually on grounds of "security") as attempting to block our very possibility for intimacy on a personal level.

One aspect she doesn't go into is how smart phones and wifi and technology in general enable us to be "on" all the time - so there's never any down time if we are always able to check that mail as soon as it comes in, even if we're at home. Technology blurs the lines between work and non-work time for many jobs.  Technology can also divide our focus, which is undoubtedly why some workplaces block access to sites like Facebook - they don't want you spending your time tagging your friends in photos when you should be working. But with the ubiquity of smart phones and people's ability to use Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites via their own phone, this will be increasingly difficult for companies to control.

Other companies have embraced the medium, using tools like Facebook themselves to communicate with their employees. When this happens, it blurs the lines between private and professional even further. On a personal level, in the heady, early days of Facebook, I was "friends" with colleagues from work. This has slowly shifted and I keep the professional social networking to Linked-In and keep Facebook for private friends and interests outside of work.  There are just times where you don't want to learn of your boss's impending move across the country via his wife's status updates.

We think that the impact of connectivity and social networking on jobs where there is traditionally a sharp line between work and at home - like soldiering and seafaring must be enormous.  We also wonder if day-to-day involvement in family life and family issues, via Skype or Facebook, when one is far away and cannot help or offer support, is all positive. I recently talked to a friend whose husband was away at sea when she had car trouble. She told him about it when he called and he ended up feeling badly that he wasn't there to help her deal with it. The involvement in the everyday afforded by technology can leave the one who is at work feeling far away and helpless and even more isolated than if they weren't able to know what happened until they got home.  Technology brings us closer together and makes the world smaller, but that has both good and bad sides.

Technology and how it's changing work is a complex issue that bears much more investigation and thinking in the coming years. If you'd like to look at the impact technology is having on your team, J2 Research can help with targeted research - to help you make better business decisions.

~ Julie
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