Web workers between the devil and the deep blue sea

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The  Pew Research Center issued an interesting report titled Networked Workers that proposes a analysis of the state of web workers in the US. By web workers we have to understand people who use internet in their day to day job, including email. qui dresse un état des lieux des travailleurs du web aux Etats-Unis. Par travailleurs du web entendons tous ceux qui utilisent internet dans leur travail quotidien (pour information cela comprend également l’email).

Here are some numbers

  • 27% are always on internet at work (“always on”) andt 22% several times a day.
  • 80% consider web technologies increase their ability for doing their work.
  • 73% consider web technologies help them to share ideas with their colleagues
  • 58% consider they offer them more flexibility in their day to day work
  • 56% say they work at home on top of their work
  • 50% read their business emails on week ends
  • 49% say these technologies increased their level of stress
  • 49% say they make it more difficult to switch off when at home or on vacation

conclusion  :

  • we are more and more connected to the web and it’s an obvious help in our day to day work.
  • the confusion bewteen private / business is more and more pronounced and may have negative consequences on people’s health and, more widely, on their family and on society.

In brief it can be summed up by : “it’s useful but it’s more and more intrusive”.

Are we reaching the limits of the web as a work platform or the limit of an unappriate use ? Assuming that, according to me, tools are either good or bad, efficient or not, depending on the way they’re used, I’d rather say the second propostion is true.

Even if some may find it provocative (and it is), I’d rather say we’re facing an adequate personnal use of tools in and inadequate organizational and management context. Respondants say nothing else than “we knomw how to use these tools but we suffer from the way the group use them”. By group let’s understand the enterprise through its culture and management.

I don’t think we need to enlarge on the subject of tool’s use by employees at work. In the other han it’s interesting to discuss the perceived negative effects that be analyzed on two sides : loss of control on information flows when people are receivers and the necessary evolution of management practices.

Employees have to learn to organize their personal information supply-chain

Employees feel efficient when they produce information and in troube when they receive. That means that if they can handle things when they operate, they’re overwhelmed since the information flow comes from other people. People don’t know, technically, how to master, master, canalize these flows. It’s caused both by the fact they’re used to treat information as they receive it and by the fact they feel guilty of not checking information when it’s accessible even when not on duty.

For the first point, it the same ad the plumber things I mentioned here. There are four kind of informations at a given moment

– 1°) Information I’m given and I need. No problem, I treat.

– 2°) Information I’m given and I don’t need : it may be useful later but at this moment it’s like spam. It raises my stress, makes me lose time and makes me lose my concentration.

– 3°) Information I need and I’m not given : I spent a lot of time to find it. Very frustrating since at the same time I suffer from #2.

– 4°) Information I don’t need and I’m not given. No problem provided I can find it whenever I need it<.

Conclusion : everything has to be findable if one day I need it but only flow #1 has to reach me. For the rest, I’d like things to be available and searchable the day I’ll need it without having to ask.

What causes stress is to receive inadequate information when I don’t need while having to find informations I need.

It’s about employee’s attitude (I don’t treat, I don’t read, I’ll this later are choices they have to learn to do without feeling guilty) and tools with, as a linchpin, the spread of publishing spaces that will replace email and will become maketplaces from which people will build their information supply chain, with RSS feeds for example.

The second point is more about management issues.

Management has to evolve too

Two things makes internet intrusive in private live : lack of distance and inadequate management.

On the first point, it may happen that an employee can’t switch off not because he’s tols to from from home or read his emails on vacation but, since he has the tools to do so, he feels guilty if he doesn’t. The remedy has nopt to be found in tools or rules but rather with an accompaniement or a coaching in order to learn how loosen their grip. That’s not because they have their tools that they are at work.

The second means management didn’t catch what tools change and consider that since you received an information you have to treat it, even if it’s Christmas Eve, and put the blame on the employee by two means : “you could have finishes I you worked at home” and “you were not forced to..”. The solution will be found in a greater collective maturity on thses issues and is not that dissociable from the previous point even if managers should adopt an exemplary attitude in the use of communication tools.

Sur le premier point il arrive qu’un collaborateur n’arrive pas à déconnecter non parce qu’on lui impose de travailler chez lui ou de lire ses emails pendant les vacances mais parce qu’ayant les outils pour le faire il culpabilise s’il ne le fait pas. Le remède n’est pas à trouver dans les outils ou les règles de travail mais davantage vers un accompagnement, un coaching vers davantage de lacher prise. Ca n’est pas parce que les outils de travail sont à disposition qu’on est au travail.

Le second point relève d’un management qui n’a pas saisi ce que les outils bouleversent et qui considère que dès lors qu’on reçoit une information on doit la traiter, fut-ce en plein réveillon de Noël, et rejette la faute sur le collaborateur par deux moyens : “tu pouvais être à jour en travaillant de chez toi”  et “rien ne t’obligeais à le faire…”. La solution se résoudra par l’atteinte d’une certaine maturité collective sur la question et n’est pas dissociable du point précécent même si le management devrait être moteur dans la régulation des flux pour montrer l’exemple dans un premier temps.

Let me add two more points:

• Everybody finds it normal that employees bring work at home but not that he takes three coffee breaks or spend a few time on facebook at work.

• Everybody admit that self-learning and business intelligence are essential for knowledge workers. But they’re supposed to do that on their personal time (also read here)

Whatever, in an context of high interdependances between people, the solution won’t be individual but it will suppose a collective maturity.