A few days ago, AIIM New England sponsored a panel discussion on Cloud Computing, Mobile Content Management and the trend to “bring your own device” (BYOD). I don’t plan to talk about those subjects here, but I should introduce the panel. We had three brilliant speakers: Roger Bottum – VP of Marketing, SpringCM; Christopher J. Luise – Executive VP, ADNET Technologies and Marc D. Anderson – Co-Founder and President of Sympraxis Consulting. The discussion was mostly technical, but toward the end, it drifted into a philosophical lane.
The lane change occurred after considering the fact that mobile devices and cloud-based applications allow us to work at any time, from almost anywhere; although Marc pointed out that working from the shower will require the invention of the driPhone. Additional fuel came from an audience member who remembered a time (in the 1950’s) when technology was being advertised as something that was going to allow us to “do our jobs in half the time”, thus increasing leisure time and improving the quality of our lives. He asked: “when does technology start to deliver on that promise?” My first thought was “they also told us that our school desk would save us during a nuclear attack and that filtered cigarettes were safe” – they might have been lying.
The panelists bounced between the concept of “having to establish a work-life balance” and the fact that avoiding burnout is our (employees) responsibility. There were comments from the audience ranging from descriptions of Scrooge-like expectations to “these devices all have off buttons – use them!” One comment intrigued me:
“Maybe there isn’t a work-life balance, maybe it’s all just life.”
Think about that; why does it matter when we work?
Think about everything else in your life; do you keep it contained? Are you only religious during church services? Are you only learning when in class? Are you only a parent before and after work? I have always subscribed to the notion that “work is what you do to finance your life” but that’s not inconsistent with the idea that work is also part of my life. My work doesn’t define me, but it is part of the definition. Maybe there was a time when people looked for jobs that allowed them to show up at 8:00, toil until 4:00, and not think about that job until 8:00 the next day – if those jobs actually existed, (I seem to remember Ward Clever bringing work home) I think they are gone.
I feel lucky to have a job that provides me with the opportunity to travel a bit, to meet new and interesting people, to refine and expand my skillset, and to work from wherever I am. I am also fortunate to work for a company that supports my involvement in a professional association (AIIM) and encourages me to give back to the community of professionals that have helped me throughout my career. My other blogs, my presence on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. (etc. is the new name for Google+) are all somewhat related to my career – should I only work on them during “business hours?”
One of the panelists embraces the idea that we have to break away, that we have to disconnect and unwind – that’s true, but the object behind the implied “from” isn’t work, it’s everything. When I go for a bike ride, I’m not just escaping work, I’m not thinking about the projects I have going on at home, I’m not thinking about saving for retirement, I’m not necessarily thinking about my wife and daughter (never far from my mind girls, but…) When I spend a few hours in my workshop, I am focused on the task, the tool or piece of wood at hand. It’s the same when I am caught up in a bit of productive programming at work; I am involved to the exclusion of all else. Sitting around in the evening, I might organize some pictures I took on that bike ride, I might sketch some changes to that woodworking project and I might jot down some notes on how to improve that code, or maybe I’ll open my laptop and change that code – I don’t think that’s unhealthy.
I don’t think a 24 hour capability to access people and content from work is adding to our stress level; I think we mentally fabricate our stress level, just as we always have. People had ulcers in the 30’s and 40’s when they barely had the ability to place their own phone calls. One of the reasons I am not stressed about my job is that I know I can deal with problems whenever I need to from wherever I happen to be. I rarely worry about work. Truth be told, I rarely worry about anything, but that’s another story. The people in my life, the growing list of goals, objectives and accomplishments are all part of the composite picture of me. They are all part of my life, and I don’t want to waste my time cordoning them off into their separate times – I think I’ll just live this life and be happy.