Over the past few weeks, I've read a couple of articles that really fascinated me and brought together what seems to be a changing face of the workplace for many people. This changing face of work is really being brought together by three key factors.
Bring your own device (BYOD) initiatives that are coupled with the deployment of virtual desktops to enabled on demand anytime, anywhere, any device computing. These kinds of initiatives make it possible for employees to connect to their corporate resources from a simple kiosk-based web browser, from a laptop or even from their smartphone.
The work/life "blend"
This Bloomberg Businessweek article on work/life "blend" as opposed to "balance" is from 2008, but I saw it only recently. In the article, the author points to the attempt to balance one's personal and professional lives as an outdated concept and often-difficult goal to achieve. The author makes the case that generation Y will eschew "balance" in favor of "blending" their two personas together in a way that helps them achieve their goals. Although the author focuses on the Y generation, as a member of Generation X, I can see how this concept of blending can radically change one's thoughts about achieving goals.
Personally, I found this simply difference in terminology extremely compelling. Whereas the word "balance" brings to mind a set of scales that must stay constantly in sync in order for happiness to be achieved, the word "blend" instead makes me think of my water faucet - here's why: Everyone has a different water temperature that they like when they wash their hands. For me, I might like the water a bit hotter, but the person across the aisle might like a bit colder blend. By making simple adjustments to the two controls - the hot water tap and the cold water tap - each individual user of that faucet gets water at the exact temperature that he or she likes.
It often takes some fiddling with the controls before you get the temperature that's perfect for you. Now, when I wash my hands, I don't even have to think about where to turn the knobs to. I'm so used to the faucet that I just walk up to it and move the controls to my desired location and get the water I want.
That's how achieving a workable work/life blend works, too. You have to understand your desires and tolerance on each side of the work/life equation and adjust the knobs to your liking. Obviously, this is a bit tougher than adjusting water temperature since you don't always completely control both sides of the equation, but with the right technologies in place and the right management mindset in an organization, workers start to have the controls that they need to get the right blend in their lives.
The word "balance" to me implies a rigid set of circumstances outside the bounds of which lies chaos and unhappiness and it seems to be an increasingly unattainable goal.
Sometimes, just changing a word can completely change the way that you think about an ideal. Again, it takes understanding and management that takes a people approach to make this work so it's not going to work for every organization.
The continuing rise of the remote worker
More and more, people have the means by which to work remotely. Internet connectivity is in many more places than it was just a few years and speeds have increased, making it a feasible connectivity option. I remember the days when "working from home" meant installing a couple of expensive ISDN lines; this was far from scalable and certainly not universal.
Further, free Wi-Fi is available in a whole lot of places these days, too. Heck, McDonald's has it in most of their restaurants and there and McDonald's everywhere. All told, except in rural areas, there are generally ample Internet connectivity options.
Unfortunately, although remote work is often desired, there are also some major drawbacks. Many managers remain wary of such arrangements worried that employees will not be as productive as their office-based brethren and may not be able to perform the range of tasks that are necessary. Certainly, not all jobs are suitable for remote work, either, so in some places, there is an equity issue to handle.
Recently, Stanford University performed a study with a 12,000 employee strong Chinese travel agency. Here is an excerpt from the article that reported on the study:
"508...employees registered for the study, and were then further divided into two groups: One that worked from home after being confirmed to have an adequate remote working environment, and one that had to continue commuting to work. Tracking then began on both groups, and after just a few weeks, the home group took more calls, logged more hours and were overall just more productive than the other group. They were even happier and quit less often."
The article author went on to discuss some pros and cons to remote work, but felt that the results showed that remote work can result in significant gains. Personally, I agree, but only when properly managed.
So, when you bring all of this together, what do you have? Through the use of initiatives such as BYOD that are growing in popularity and as a result of people's desire and willingness to better "blend" their working and personal lives and as remote work becomes a more feasible option, we seem to be at a crossroads at which organizations can truly empower their employers to work from anywhere at anytime and achieve the same or better goals than they would under a traditional working environment. Obviously, the results of a single study on remote work should be considered nothing more than a first step, but when you combine the three trends, it's easy to see how this paradigm can work to the benefit of both the company and the employee.
Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive with CampusWorks, Inc. Scott is available for consulting, writing, and speaking engagements and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.