Work and Life Balance in the Digital Age

Work and Life Balance in the Digital Age

 

Today’s technological devices (mobile devices, video conferencing, etc.) can help us to work flexibly from various locations and around the clock, but it can also lead towards a depreciation of work/life boundaries and the feeling of always being “on the grid.”

Decades ago some authors, scientists, and business people predicted that we would advance in our technological abilities.  Many of them also predicted that, as a result of new technological developments, we would see a reduction in the amount of work hours for the average person.  While we’ve seen technologies increase in leaps and bounds since the 1980s, the 50-60 hour work week remains a reality for most of us.

What happened?  Why were they wrong?  What can be done about it?  In short, too many people created a “new norm” as they used the technologies at hand.  You receive a work email on your phone and feel the need to respond.  “It doesn’t take much time and it’s important,” you probably say to yourself.   Companies and bosses see that you’re “always on” and quick to respond, so they start to expect quicker response times and more hours out of their employees.  Before you know it, if you’re an employee who isn’t checking emails past 7 PM – or over your weekend – you’re perceived as a slacker.

Other people feel that various technological advancements HELP them to achieve a better work/life balance.  Today it’s possible to use your mobile devices almost anywhere, allowing you to more efficiently toggle between your professional and personal responsibilities, while in the olden days you were almost always chained to a desk in an office.  Now you can be at your children’s sporting event or concert, but still be able to check-in with your office remotely.

Many have specifically highlighted how video-conferencing has helped them achieve a better balance in life.  Video conferencing is an extremely effective tool that does enable people to work from home (or wherever) while also being able to see their colleagues or clients in personal and collaborative ways, and despite the actual distance between them.

So what’s the best way to achieve a work/life balance in today’s digital world?  First, you need to recognize that both employees and employers have a responsibility to set some parameters.  No one should always feel pressured to literally be on the grid 24/7!  Typically, it is the individual who must make the first step towards setting these kind of boundaries.  Create a time to sit down with your superiors and communicate your availability.

Second, when you are out of the office and don’t want to be “on the grid,” find a colleague who can handle the requests for you.  Delegating responsibility, when possible or necessary, is vital.  This is especially true for CEOs, managers, and supervisors.

Third, acknowledge and change company culture.  Too often companies respond to technologies by filling up the 9-5 days with meetings (known as “meeting bloat”) and expecting the actual work will get done “sometime” after all the meetings.  Other companies do the opposite.  They fill the regular work hours and days with so many tasks and deliverables that communications naturally have to occur via endless emails and texts, often after hours.  Help to create an in-office workplace culture that allows time for meetings and communications, as well as time for actual tasks and assignments.  Fight the idea that “it can be done later.”

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