The connected employee : chosen of suffered moments ?

New ways of working made possible by the internet, most of all because it allows to get rid of time and location constraints, raise many questions for businesses. These questions are about two main areas.

First, human relationships. Will we stop having face-to-face meetings ? Will virtual meetings replace all physical interactions ? And, if yes, for the better or the worse ?

Second, work-life balance and the blurring frontier between life and work. At the beginning we used to talk about balance, now it’s about integration. There’s no frontier anymore but we must still learn to make both cohabit all day long. Numbers speak from themselves and, even if it seems we’ve gone too far in this way to move back, it’s impossible not to wonder about the long term consequences on people’s live, balance and health.

When you listen to people talking about these concerns, opinions range from one extreme to the other. Awesome for some, terrible for others. The problem with the evolution of work is that it’s supposed to become the new normal. Even a new norm. And one can’t negotiate norms. It’s a collective system everyone must comply with.

Work models are perceived differently whether they’re chosen or suffered

From my perspective there’s a point that seems to be missing in the debate. We’re talking about the future of  work and its unavoidable nature, flexibility, easiness, constraints but never of the nature of change regarding to its instigators.

As for the virtualization of relationships we already know the answer. The future is not physical or virtual but blended. Virtual has its pros and allows a new time-space elasticity, physical allows to go deeper into things and solve problems. The CMO of an international company recently told me “being able to do things remotely is very practical but sometimes I need to take a plane an see people face to face. For many reasons, there are things for which virtual makes you lose time and worsen the quality of discussions“.

On the opposite, virtual also improves the times spent together. As we can see in organizations where it’s the new normal and as written in this good book on the digital workplace, continuously being with others also causes clashes, irritation, stress and in the end may lead to confrontational situations caused by details. On the other hand, when the members of remote teams decide to meet, these moments are appreciated and seen as being more productive and qualitative. Without the biases caused by day-to-day life, they make people say “Oh…I’m going to meet him…It’s going to be great…Looking forward to it” instead of “oh my….one one day with this….”.

The difference between both ? Chosen versus suffered moments.

That’s the same with work-life balance.

As I already wrote, the intrusion of work in personal lives is mainly caused by poor organization. The new time-space elasticity made possible is not used to deal with unexpected issues but not to question a dysfuntiuning organization that causes delays and forces to deal with nearly anything in an emergency. The main reason why these situation are being criticized is not because they exist : nearly everyone recognized it’s good to deal with exceptional situations. The problem is that they have become the new normal and allow not to question the effectiveness of how we work and why have exception become the new normal.

Here again, it’s about chosen or suffered connectiveness. Chosen by the one who’s late, has an issue and considers it’s not a problem because he’ll be able to reach others during dinner, lunch, week end or vacations. Suffered for those who are not responsible for the situation and suffers from the lack of organization of the other. More, when the question is asked we have to kind of answers : the one who triggers the interaction finds it very convenient, the one being reached anytime is starting to feel that too much is too much. Even those who used to find  connectiveness good years ago, when we were only a minority able to work this way. The problem with the trend that becomes global is that adopting good behaviors collectively is more and more difficult.

Chosen vs suffering connectiveness : a matter of good behaviors ?

Let’s be honest. Most of us are sometimes on the one side, sometimes on the other. But some are more often in one than in the other.

It raises a new perspective on work transformation. It’s not to know if something is right or wrong, positive or negative. It’s about knowing things are chosen or suffered and how to find the balance, a good behavior policy that will make the large majority adopt it.

Look. There are businesses tackling the issue in a very interesting way. I’ve seen once where the communication tools policy, instead of prohibiting to solicit people when they’re not on duty, says tha outside of work hours, employees can ask things to their managers but managers can’t send messages to employees. I’ve been told that it  dramatically reduced the number of conflicted situations and that the new time-place elasticity is now used again to solve unexpected problems, not as the new normal.

Image credit : Connected Employee via Shutterstock

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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