“Anytime, Anywhere” and Abuse

Original Image Source: “Family Computing”, 1988

“Anytime, Anywhere” and Abuse

by DS Bigham, Consultant with Boilerplate Digital

Y’all. We need to talk about the all-in attitude for the “anytime, anywhere” employee. While it may seem like a boon to worklife, when we move away from an in-office, 9 to 5 culture, there is strong potential for employees (“teammates”) to be abused, with work bleeding into and eating away at their non-work lives.

Typically, the narrative is something like this: the humble employee of days gone by, chained to their desk, enslaved by the wall clock ticking the hours until 5pm, buried under hundreds — if not thousands! — of emails, toiling away in a tiny sector of the company, no voice of their own. How pitiful they are! How grey and depressing under those fluorescent tubes! If only someone would save them; if only our notion of work would be disrupted; if only someone had the bravery to dismantle the structures, like the great Apple commercial from 1984, then we could be free!

Except… maybe not. Because for many of us whose lives deviate from the de facto “straight, white, male” stereotype of who an employee is, the escape from work we’ve been promised turns into the opposite: a chimera where work and life become an inseparable one.

No Need to Balance if It’s All Work

Take the 9-to-5 lifestyle as an example. We’re promised that in the future — free from the clutches of the clock — employees can “work anytime!” What a lifesaver to those of us who are more “night owls” than “morning larks”! What a convenience for those of us who have errands to run, kids to pick up, hospice patients to visit! Etc.

That’s the promise, anyway.

The reality, though, is that 9-to-5 gave us boundaries, with Saturday and Sunday as sacrosanct. 9-to-5 (and shift-based work, in general) meant that everyone was looking out for everyone else, too, because we all knew the parameters. Asking an employee to work outside hours was a Big Deal and not something you did unless you had to. Now, however… There’s a reason that professions that have always been outside of the 9–5 timeline — lawyers, doctors, professors — are the ones known for working 70, 80, 110 -hour weeks. When there’s no clock to watch, the only person responsible for your time is you, and most of us yous out there still feel uncomfortable telling the boss “no” as “just ten more minutes and I can fix this problem!” quickly stretches 40 hours into 50, 50 into 60, and so on.

We have to stanch the work/life bleed.

And it’s not just the time-clock where we see this work/life bleed. Work anywhere! becomes working from home, forgetting to leave the house, unable to get away from the kids in summer, attention always split between work and everything else. Any device! becomes working on your phone, destroying your carpals and your neck, never fully present because there’s always something to answer, unable to even go to the bathroom without feeling a need to respond to the latest PRIORITY message of the moment (the third or fourth of the day, naturally). Collaboration technologies! become the perennial debate at the company retreat as to whether we should be communicating over Slack, Hangouts, or email; chatrooms making it impossible to set your own timeline for the day, because ping! ping! ping! several people are typing, and you need to respond, and you still have email to check, because we’re still using email. BECAUSE OF COURSE WE ARE.

These technologies haven’t saved us from anything. They have not paved the way to a brighter future, because technology alone can’t do that, only people can. But — and this is crucial — they have given us options. The future of work can still be saved.

Options Over Demands

Boiling it down, the excitement over “the future of work” comes back to something we’ve known since Dolly Parton hogtied Dabney Coleman in 9 to 5 — we want options; we want choice. In a post-industrial global economy, there’s no reason everyone needs to start work at 9am and end at 5pm, but! 9-to-5 still works for a lot of us, so give us the option to us shift our hours, but let that shift be on our terms, not the whims of the manager-boss. Give us the option of Slack or Hangouts or email, but pick one and stick with it, or at least define which tool exists for what, otherwise you haven’t replaced a tool but merely added to the detritus. If we need to be away from the office and still need to work, then give us that option, but don’t assume it. Because when being tethered to no device means we’re tethered to them all, we are on the short road to burn out.

the future of work can still be saved

We have to protect our time, our employees’ time, our teammates’ time. If we know they’re working 80-hour week coding sprints for two, three, four weeks in a row, we need to step in. If an employee is on vacation, let them be on vacation — if one absent employee means your company may fail, you’ve got a systemic problem to address, and violating someone’s vacation isn’t the way to fix it. And most importantly, we have to let people have their boundaries. Let someone leave work at 5pm if they want to, and resist the urge to email them at 5:20pm, asking “one quick question”. Options require boundaries; you can’t have one without respecting the other.

We can save the future of work, but we have to stanch the work/life bleed. No, the “old ways” of doing thing don’t always make a lot of sense in the modern world, but they weren’t entirely without value, either. And when we switch gears or adopt new methods, we need to make sure we aren’t getting rid of the good with the bad. Technology itself cannot save us; we have to save ourselves.

[The article “Anytime, Anywhere” and Abuse was originally published on DS Bigham’s LinkedIn, 12-July-2018; republished here with permission of the author.]

Source: Medium:Remote Working
“Anytime, Anywhere” and Abuse

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