Work-Life Balance in the Digital Workplace: A Myth?

We all know the digital workplace is good for business. But few seem to ask if it’s good for the individual. Is the digital workplace beneficial for employees?

Let’s take work-life balance for example. Does the digital workplace help employees achieve better work-life balance? Or does it obliterate all possibility of even having a personal life?

There seem to be arguments for both sides of the fence. Let’s take a closer look.

The Digital Workplace Supports Work-Life Balance

Mark Morell has come to the conclusion that “Everyone should gain a better work/life balance from a digital workplace.” He doesn’t support this assertion in his post, but I think I can guess a few reasons why a digital workplace would be good for work-life balance:

1. Not tied down to a physical work location

By definition, in a digital workplace, you’re not required to be in a specific location to do work (within exceptions, of course). In practical terms, this means no more stressful, time-consuming commutes. Or far less of them.

2. Greater productivity

The tools in a digital workplace help improve communication and collaboration. This could mean getting your work done more easily. When we complete our work faster, technically this should free up more time for leisure and a personal life. In a digital workplace, the number of hours you put in no longer matters. It’s all about results: “This new model measures and rewards people for their performance and results, not their time,” Bonnie Marcus says in this article.

3. Work the way you live

The digital workplace makes work much more flexible. This means employees can shape their work around their personal lives, and in a way that enhances their productivity. Let me quote Marcus again, as she concludes, “When the time and location of work becomes less important, it is easier to fit these commitments around each other.”

The digital workplace makes it easier to fit work around your family’s schedules. It’s also possible now to adjust work to your own working style. If you’re a night owl, for example, you no longer have to force yourself to work early in the day. You could instead do all your tasks in the afternoon and work well into the night — whatever it takes for you to produce your best work.

4. Less interpersonal conflict

In a digital workplace, there’s less office politics and less conflict. Even when conflicts do arise, they’re less personal because staff don’t confront each other face-to-face. Less relationship stress contributes to a more relaxed and focused workforce.

The Digital Workplace Destroys Work-Life Balance

On the other hand, others contend that the opposite is true, that the digital workplace would actually destroy whatever work-life balance employees have left. In fact, Paul Miller, in The Digital Workplace: How Technology Is Liberating Work, says the blurring of work and life “is a big negative. It is unhealthy and unnecessary.”

In what ways might the digital workplace harm work-life balance?

1. Work ALL the time

When we’re not tied down to specific times and locations to work, our tendency is to work ALL the time. We no longer have physical and temporal boundaries between work and personal life. In such a case, we can expect work to dominate over life.

2. Heavier workloads

Greater productivity, rather than leading to more leisure time, will in fact lead to more work. As productivity increases, expectations on employees will also increase. Nobody’s getting off the hook. Therefore, our work loads will not be reduced but will increase.

We’re already seeing evidence of this. According to a survey by software company Good Technology, we’re already putting in an extra seven hours of work every week. This is because 80 per cent of respondents check emails and take calls outside of regular working hours — because they can. Those are 7 additional work hours that are unpaid and probably un-acknowledged by management.

3. Addicted to work

The digital workplace feeds into work addictions. Those who are addicted to work and connectedness will be able to work all the time, and ping co-workers even at 2 in the morning. If they’re in management positions, they will expect staff to do the same, and to be on-call 24/7.

4. Social isolation

Reduced interpersonal interaction in a digital workplace can lead to social isolation. In traditional workplaces, we may develop life-long friendships with some of our co-workers. Relationships go beyond the walls of the office.

This is much more difficult in a digital workplace. Employees will need to look beyond the office to nurture friendships and build a network that’s not business related.

Or Is This Issue Moot and Academic?

Still another school of thought asserts that the very issue of “work-life balance” is passe. It has become irrelevant in the way we work and live. According to Dr. Hannah Valantine, quoted in this New York Times post, we should instead strive for work-life “integration.” Work is life, and life is work. No boundaries, no distinctions.

What are your thoughts on work-life balance in the digital workplace? Will the future of work have more or less of it? Or will the debate become irrelevant altogether? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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