There is a prevalent myth that smartphones, tablets and other Internet-connected devices are making employees less productive. The “always-on” business culture is breaking down the barriers between a person’s work and personal life.
Volkswagen certainly subscribes to this notion, as it has banned its employees’ usage of their company-provided smartphones after hours. By and large, people have rebelled and asked to be unplugged to help them recharge.
I think that’s backward. In a society where 75 percent of the population calls and texts from the bathroom, do you really think people are going to get away from their mobile devices for any substantial amount of time? It’s time to stop raging against our tiny machines and embrace our technological overlords. Our phones and laptops are not our captors; they are the tools that will set us free.
When people complain about their work-life balance struggles, what they are really railing against is the traditional 9-to-5 workday. Before the Internet and mobile devices, a set schedule was critical to making sure everyone showed up and contributed to moving the company forward. It was difficult to take work home, so the daily grind was the only option.
Today’s modern workplaces have no such constraints. Can you think of one company where laptops, tablets and smartphones aren’t used by almost every employee? In a world obsessed with innovation, why are we clinging to a rigid work schedule that even Don Draper thinks is old?
I have a home office where I, like most people, work anywhere between eight to 12 hours on any given workday. I take calls, participate in brainstorms and conduct business as I would in a traditional office. However, I also have the flexibility to take off a few hours in the middle of the day to pick up my son from school, attend plays and recitals and attend other important family events.
The fact of the matter is that if everyone is connected at all times, you can plug in and play whenever and wherever you feel like. Putting in long hours at the office now is no longer a badge of pride in many organizations, as employee evaluations focus on output and results rather than effort and appearance. With 85 percent of workplaces offering flexible hours, we need to stop blaming technology for contributing to our work anxieties and instead take control of our own lives.
This isn’t to say that people should do whatever they want at all times. Management must still provide guidance and enforce deadlines to ensure that projects are being completed on time. Employees must be vigilant to ensure that their newfound freedom doesn’t compromise their results. And since collaboration is still the lifeblood of any business organization, extra measures should be taken to facilitate it regularly, on site or remotely.
Rather than positioning themselves as omnipresent authoritative figures, businesses are better served when management creates internal structure built upon guidance, support and autonomy. In order to make this work, employees need to be evaluated solely on their outcomes and not on subjective measurements such as time spent in the office. Raises and promotions should go to the efficient, not to people dithering in their offices late into the night.
The Center for Creative Leadership’s Craig Chappelow wrote a really smart article where he posits that a work-life balance is impossible. People are better off establishing work-life integration instead. Rather than striving for an elusive 50-50 split, which most will find unsatisfying, people need to better leverage the tools and technologies they have around them to better manage their time. Workers at smart organizations are given the freedom to have productive, satisfying lives.
This freedom doesn’t come with a price — it comes with a responsibility. Self-motivated, deadline-oriented workers who communicate well with their peers and managers have the world in the palms of their hands. Are you ready to take control over your life and be happy?
Philip Damiano is currently president of North America and Global Business Development for Esselte Corporation. He co-founded Kensington Microware, and also served in senior leadership positions with global brands including Velcro Group Corporate, IdeaPaint and DYMO Corporation.