Why the blurry work/life boundary is not a bad thing

Ted Schadler is a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. He will be speaking at Forrester’s IT Forum, held May 25-27 in Las Vegas.

It’s no surprise that today’s employees live online, using the Internet to manage their personal lives while at the office. What might come as a shock, however, is that the majority of employees give that time back by using broadband connections, mobile devices and collaboration tools to remain productive any time and from any location. This means that employees are creating their own work/life balance by staying connected wherever they are.

What does this new concept of work/life balance mean for your organization? Employees need the right collaboration technology and instructions for how best to use it. That includes educating employees about appropriate Internet and e-mail use and providing a full set of collaboration tools with smart phone and tablet PC capabilities. Employees need to be able to access necessary programs on the go and have the IT support to back them up.

Government policies must also support the new work/life balance. For example, although the government has issued a telework policy that requires agencies to dedicate support staff and budgets to employees who work from home, there is still more work to do to better support the work-anywhere future. One way would be to make local broadband access and competition a priority, thereby driving down costs and driving up connection speeds to create attractive and productive at-home working environments for employees.

The steady advance and convenience of the Internet makes a transition to a work-anywhere future inevitable. In that world, work is something you do, not just a place you go. For organizations to successfully operate in that world, they must consider a few key principles.

  1. Promote work/life balance with the goal of a productive and successful workforce. Work/life balance might feel like a soft benefit, but employees who can manage the many facets of their personal lives while getting their work done are more likely to be productive and stick with the organization through thick and thin.
  2. Evaluate employees on what they deliver, not how much time they spend. Although doctors, customer service reps, sales professionals and software developers are already measured that way, most government and back-office workers still aren’t. Managers must work with the human resources team to develop metrics for basing evaluations on performance rather than office time.
  3. Develop management systems to keep employees productive regardless of location. Those systems include manager/employee check-ins, HR-approved metrics for evaluation, frequent performance reviews and training for managers who must lead a distributed team.
  4. Invest in tools and services to support work from any location, any device, any time. Today, most organizations use the same technology tools they did when every employee was tied to his or her desk by an Ethernet cable. In the age of wireless networks, smart phones, tablet PCs, bring-your-own computers and telework, that design no longer works.

Many organizations face a difficult transition as senior managers ponder how to keep remote employees productive and IT organizations wonder where they’ll find the staff, money and time to give employees access to technology while at home and on the go.

The time for these changes is now because distributed organizations, global markets and telework are the present and the future. Employees already know that and are living in the new world with or without the support of the IT organization.

About the Author

Ted Schadler is a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research and co-author with Josh Bernoff of a new Forrester book, “Empowered,” published by Harvard Business Press.

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Reader comments

Fri, May 13, 2011 Mike1987

Work/Life - Ted - I'm fairly sure you have no clue what you are talking about. Work is now 24/7 with the introduction of the crackberry and now "telework". So, I leave the office, and while getting home respond to emails and then respond at home via "Gov" laptop and crackberry and then on weekends. The expectation now is that since you are "contactable", just do this one thing, oh, and this, and this and this. Before you know it, you are responding 24/7 with no pay increase and a useless Congress demonizing you.

Wed, May 4, 2011 Maria M

For me, life is not work. We need those boundaries to keep us sane. The idea that you can't be productive unless you mend the 2 into 1 is nonsense. (Wonder why so much heart attack and high blood pressure?) It is all about balance, performance & that order.

Tue, May 3, 2011 Alice WA

I grew up on a farm where work was life and life was work. Income producing work was spread out unevenly over a 24/7/365 schedule that was determined by things like the weather, seasons, and lifecycles of animals and crops. Working with the same people at home and at work was never a problem because as the family grew, the acerage of the farm grew and the number of places to work multiplied. In today's world one or two job/work locations are not enough. At work I use a number of locations to conduct business. If I worked from home everyroom in the house, the front yard, backyard and at least one of the outbuildings would be locations where I might have to be physically and still need to be in contact with my office.

Tue, May 3, 2011 Olde Sarge Washington, DC

Ethernet cable! Didn't you mean typewriter, quduplicate forms, in/out boxes, and intraoffice mail. Few government managers have even adapted to the PC/ethernet/eMail functioning level. Good luck getting them to the laptop/wifi/smart phone/eMail/facebook/twitter state.

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