CIO Zone

The hybrid life

Grant Shippey, founder and CEO of Amorphous.
Grant Shippey, founder and CEO of Amorphous.

We asked professionals how they view the blurring of lines between the professional self and the personal self today and in future ? and how this affects their lives specifically. Although traditionally existing as two separate entities, it has become evident that technology is causing an increasing overlap between work and family/personal life. Here is what they had to say.

Technology and media firm owner
Grant Shippey, founder and CEO of Amorphous

As an owner/manager of a technology and media firm, this gap has always been blurred, but we see this increasingly happening in most other organisations now, too. It is the modus operandi of a millennial team member to be `always-on' and in constant contact. The blur between work life and personal life is even more evident in social media, where personal viewpoints and activities are seen as the public global face an individual shows to the world. The gap is definitely closing between work and personal life and, as some would even argue, it is closed already.

Creating defined and predictable spaces for personal, family, friendship and work is increasingly more complex. One real and rewarding solution to this is the idea of block-booking time. The idea is not to run your personal life like an automaton, but to create runways and landing spots for different activities.

Technology is a significant enabler. The advent of cloud and collaboration tools lets teams, across the globe, collaborate and tackle projects faster and more efficiently. And you can run families with it, too!

Self-employed and working from home
Lizelle McDermott, MD of McD Squared

Devices have become such an integral part of work and personal life, it's becoming very difficult to separate the two. I run three different e-mail accounts on my one device in order to not miss anything important, and tend to worry about the potential negative repercussions that might result from not replying to mails immediately. However, such a mindset causes one's attention to shift away from your family, so it's important to create rules for yourself after hours. I allow myself to keep an eye on incoming mails, but not respond to them until the next morning.

Before working for myself, I used to be much more negatively impacted by how my work encroached on my personal life. If there was a big enough overlap between my personal and work life, it not only affected my relationships negatively, but my health as well. And I found, once your work requirements start impacting your health, you never reach your full productivity capability.

In a self-employed capacity, I see the blurring of lines as a more positive thing ? my clients can see that I am available when they need me, but also understand that there are times where I prioritise family responsibilities.

The lines are only blurring because these two worlds were never meant to be far apart.

Kevin Hall, Elingo

Unified communications (UC) is a great enabler for a flexible and home-based working model. It saves you time and money by eliminating the need for travel, while still allowing for face-to-face communication. It is also an excellent collaboration tool. Unfortunately, most South African organisations still seem to believe there is a positive correlation between being physically present at the office and increased productivity, despite research reports citing the opposite being true.

Senior university lecturer
Tinus Stander, senior lecturer in microelectronic engineering at the University of Pretoria

The gap between my personal and professional lives has diminished at every generational leap forward in connectivity. This was acutely so with smartphones, where it's not only my work e-mails that follow me wherever I am, but the plethora of instant messaging services that keep me in contact with my workplace, pretty much at every waking hour. In addition to the connectivity, the smartphone's fairly sophisticated web browsing, word processing, document review and mark-up, and spreadsheet capabilities have undoubtedly raised expectations on the volume and complexity of work that can be accomplished outside the office and after hours.

Something I've been trying to make more use of is video calling. I've found that, although it's no replacement for a face-to-face, it's still a far more efficient means of communication than voice calls or the ubiquitous instant messaging service. With front-facing cameras and broadband connectivity being fairly standard on mobile devices nowadays, there really is no reason to cut facial expressions from our conversations.

Overall, though, my view of the narrowing gap between work and home is that it has more of a negative impact than a positive one, and this will only get worse in future. If I don't make a conscious decision to separate my personal and professional hours, I find that I can neither focus completely on my work during office hours, nor relax completely after hours. I believe these mutual intrusions of territory are a product of our perpetual connectivity, which creates the unreasonable expectation that we should be available to both work and socialise whenever we are connected. It's because we bow to these pressures that we allow ourselves to get distracted from the here and now ? it's a recipe for severe procrastination and hurried sprints to meet deadlines when you should be spending time with friends and family.

Executive at a communications solution provider
Kevin Hall, national sales manager at Elingo

The gap between work life and personal life is becoming blurred, and one needs to understand that our lives are not as segmented as we believe them to be. For example, most us receive our work e-mails on our personal devices nowadays, and see nothing wrong with making a few quick edits to a work document, while sitting in the lounge where the family's watching TV. Today's always-on culture is encouraging people to see work as part of their personality and is increasingly creating opportunities to intermingle the two worlds in a cohesive way. The lines are only blurring, because these two worlds were never meant to be far apart. Our physiology and technology is now allowing us to be more productive at work, while being at home. Flexible and customised working methods empower and motivate many employees to be more productive and creative. And we shouldn't forget, in the past, people would still sometimes worry about work while at home in the evenings, but these days, this kind of stressing doesn't happen so much, because they can work towards fixing whatever problem may be bothering them after hours.

It is the modus operandi of a millennial team member to be 'always-on' and inconstant contact.

Grant Shippey, Amorphous

South Africans, however, still remain rather apprehensive towards the flexible, remote working models that First World counties are adopting. The general preferred management styles tend to be very meeting-focused, and activity-based. But there is actually no reason a workforce needs to spend their lives in the office ? technology such as mobile and video conferencing offer the potential for increased productivity by reducing all the time wasted in traffic and meetings without real business outcomes.

Work/life worldwide statistics

Work/life balance is a growing issue worldwide, as some of these statistics clearly show:

* People with looser boundaries between home and work experience more cognitive role transitions, but are also less depleted by them.

* When people try to keep work and home life separate, their cognitive role transitions are more likely to take effort and thus hurt their performance.

* This may be why those employees in the study who have more blurred lines between work and life are the ones who experience less disruption of job performance when home situations interrupt work time. However, it could also be that the more frequent role transitions make it easier for those individuals to push the thought out of their minds. (Sloan 500 Family Study)

*On average, adults spend more time using technology than sleeping each day. (Ofcom report)

* With an estimated ten million working days lost to work-related stress in the UK last year, finding a good balance between the demands of home and the job now dominates concerns about the impact of work on health. (Labour Force Survey)

In 2013, two thirds of companies reported plans to increase spending on health and wellbeing policies. (Health, wellbeing and productivity survey 2012/2013)

*More than half of British workers are satisfied with the balance of work and leisure time, while more than a quarter are dissatisfied. (The Office of National Statistics)

* 1.4 in 100 workers took time off for `work-related stress, depression or anxiety' last year.

* Some employers reported that 97% of workers struggle with work/life balance.

(The Health and Safety Executive)

* The push toward the freelancer generation, which is now going strong at nearly 54 million professionals in the United States who enjoy creating their own schedules and taking control of their careers and personal lives, more companies are realising that they need to make some changes in policy and other `hard and fast rules', to be able to keep the best talent on board.

* Companies also don't want to add more to the estimated $350 billion of lost productivity that comes from unhappy employees.

* Americans are working more hours than ever before, especially since technology has `blurred the line between work and home' and changed expectations.

* Now, one in three Americans feels overworked and admits their personal lives have fallen by the wayside due to fear they'll lose their jobs if they're not on call and working around the clock.

(SurveyMonkey)

* Fifty-nine percent agree that for them, the boundaries are blurring, which is twice as many as those who disagree (23%).

* This blurring is most keenly felt at a senior level, where 77% of senior leaders report that for them, the line between work and life outside work is no longer distinct.

* Thirty-one percent of managers feel that the abundance of mobile technology is having a positive effect on the balance between work and home, with only one-fifth reporting a negative impact.

(Management Agenda)

* Seven percent of workers say they're most productive at a traditional office.

* Seventy-six percent say working at home offers fewer interruptions from colleagues

* Seventy-five percent encounter fewer distractions at home.

* Sixty-nine percent cite fewer meetings.

* Workers also chose reasons like avoiding office politics (68%) and the hassle of a commute (67%), and working in a more comfortable environment (51%). Sixty-five percent of workers say they feel they'd be more productive telecommuting than working at an office.

(FlexJobs' 5th Annual Super Survey)

This article was first published in the January 2017 edition of ITWeb Brainstorm magazine. To read more, go to the Brainstorm website.

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