Ever had one of those days where separate conversations from the day collide into a similar theme? Today was one of those days for me.
A co-worker and I were talking about the trials and tribulations of working remotely as part of a larger technology team. We were sharing horror stories of the disconnection from your co-workers because everyone relies on email. Where if you didn’t block off Noon to 1pm on your calendar you were likely to have a co-worker schedule an important call during that time (like I have to block off my lunch hour?). And to boot, they scheduled the meeting at 11:50am via the shared calendar system and then get upset when your ten minutes late (yeah, like I just sit in front of my computer waiting for email all day). If you can’t tell, this is a pet peeve of mine…email is not instantaneous, guaranteed communication method. If it’s urgent, pick up the phone and call me!
My co-worker was describing how his last job had him working from 6am till midnight due to the fact that there were people all over the world and they were all work-a-holics (or the company culture/expectation was that everyone was). Sure, it’s nice to have the flexibility of your work schedule to go to the gym in the middle of the day to blow off some steam or run an errand or two, but not at the cost of not being able to step away from work.
Then, this afternoon, I heard a story on NPR’s All Things Considered that talked about a home recorders dream, playing with pros online. It was a story about a guy who’s passion was playing the guitar and recording his music in the evenings. With a laptop and about $1000 he was able to build a home recording studio. The kicker was that there are numerous services available online where he could send an MP3 of his recording to someone, do a short call with them, and then for a flat rate they would record background tracks for his song (drummer, beat track, background horns, etc.). A few more MP3s would be passed back and forth and in the end the home musician had high quality tracks he would download for his song and mix it himself at home.
To those of us long time technology people, you’re probably yawning saying “so what, that’s not new”. But it is for the music industry. When you look at how music is made, all these musicians are usually in separate rooms, just listening to the other tracks when they record their own. Technology and the internet has enabled the studio musicians and singers to go independent, live geographically where every they want, and work on their own schedule. Everyone is happy, right?
Again, all of this isn’t new to those who have been doing this in high tech, but I look at this in a different way. How many of these people have the self-control and discipline to work in this fashion? More importantly, as we have the next wave of employees coming out of school, how many of them are being prepared for the challenges of balancing your life in an always-on economy?
If you can work in that situation, great for you! But, I have heard rumblings about the always-on economy from many people from all different areas of business. The difficulty of having family time because you work retail and have to be in the story during the holiday sale. The difficulty of taking a vacation and having to check your email or blackberry constantly. The difficulty of getting work done becuase of the constant interruptions from IM, Email, or the phone. Regardless of whether a worker can work in this type of environment, is it efficient and healthy?
My co-worker is expecting to see more of a revolt toward the remote working situations. We might see a new wave of self-help gurus who will help you learn how to work remotely and still have a balanced life.
Here’s my advice from what I try to do regularly to balance out my work/life and deal with the always-on economy…and it won’t cost you a four easy payments of $49.99…
- Take time each day for thinking. No phones, no email, no IM. Those are tools, learn to turn them off. Just take some quite time to review and focus on topics from the day (for me, I follow this with time for writing).
- Set aside focus time to accomplish more detailed or creative work. Turn off the communication tools. Give yourself time to concentrate and work.
- Take a real vacation at least once a year. No cell phones, no email, no connection with work. If you can’t leave your business to let it run on it’s own, then it’s not a real business. (or if your boss won’t let you take a vacation where you can’t be reached, then they’re not a real boss.)
I think there is a frustration level simmering beneath the surface of the working world that we have created. For our own and the greater good, we can’t ignore it.