It’s 3 a.m., and Steven McCraney is thinking about his next move. Does he get up and start shooting off emails from his iPad?
With real estate emerging from the doldrums, McCraney, a developer, fights the urge to plug into work at all hours. “My iPad has become my greatest tool for efficiency, but also my albatross,” he admits. “I know I’ve crossed the line when I get that look from my wife saying, really? You have that thing in your hand again?”
The longer I write about work/life balance, the more I hear and see that technology challenges are universal. From CEOs to sales persons, today’s workers are trying to build balanced lives by battling the impulse to stay connected 24/7. Checking work emails on our tablets or smartphones in bed or at a bar makes us feel like we’re working all the time.
The reality, though, is more complicated.
While we are logging onto work outside of traditional work hours — from our bed or a soccer practice — we are also taking time for our personal lives during our workday. Almost everyone, from the office secretary to the store manager, makes a personal digital escape thoughtlessly throughout the day. We tell ourselves: “I’m just going to buy Beyoncé’s new single on iTunes and go right back to work.” The problem, however, is that it doesn’t end there.
More than half of us (53 per cent) are using our devices to play at work, doing things that would have been unthinkable while at the workplace just five years ago, according to the Ipsos Social Research Institute, international advertising research specialists. We’re checking our fantasy football results, browsing our Facebook feeds, shopping on Amazon, playing Candy Crush, catching up on news, talking to friends on Twitter and texting constantly during the day.
Work and home no longer are separate spheres. Blurred lines are the new normal. We balance our personal demands by leaving early, arriving late, or slipping out of the office during the workday and then ironing out details of a business deal on our laptop once the dinner dishes are cleared.
Flexibility has become an integral part of daily life thanks to our devices.
Lisa Kauffman, vice president of marketing at Celebrity Cruises, uses her smartphone to stay connected with work all the time — even on weekends and vacations: “I have a demanding role in a competitive business, and work never stops.”
However, because she can connect from home, Kauffman says she has established her schedule in a way that she can fit her three children’s needs into her workday when necessary: “If something important is going on at school, I’m going to go. I can manage my schedule to feel a part of what’s going on with the kids and school and their extracurricular life.”
Laura Demasi, a researcher at Ipsos, says technology has transformed work into something we do, rather than only a place we go: “More broadly, it has created a new kind of ‘life on demand’ culture, where we do what we want, when and where we want.”
The daily commute has become the new productivity zone where we’re getting all sort of things done, including work (46 per cent), as well as play (60 per cent). And bed has been transformed into the new entertainment zone, with half of us using devices to shop, watch video, surf the net and use social media, her research shows.
Miami Stonegate Bank executive Erin Knight feels empowered: “There are no more traditional business hours. I can keep deals moving along and take phone calls on the go, wherever I go.” At the same time, she can deal with family issues from her office. Through text messaging, she was able to get her mother an emergency doctor’s appointment with a client. “It took a few minutes to arrange, and she would have been suffering in pain.”
Demasi says we aren’t working more, we’re working differently: “For every moment we give away to work outside of traditional work hours ... we claw back when we’re officially at work.”
Countless new apps and the roll-out of improved smartphones make the blending and blurring of our life roles increasingly challenging.
Entrepreneur Andrew Carricarte, CEO of two Miami software businesses, says maintaining balance takes more self-discipline.
Carricarte has twin infant daughters and another child on the way. He says he constantly has to think about what he is doing at the office — and whether it’s the best use of his time. “It’s so easy to do a lot of stuff that is not important and then your priorities take a hit,” he explains. “It takes strong boundaries and being disciplined with them.”
Instead of faulting technology for overwork, those of us who can take work home must push back on the addictive lure of the screen and stress it creates.
Kathleen Rotella, principal of St. Mark’s Episcopal School in Fort Lauderdale, says that on the weekends, she is tempted to log on and cram in leftover work tasks. “It’s so easy to check email and get consumed in work,” she admits. Instead, Rotella plays golf and tennis to bring balance to her life: “I force myself do something to recharge and refresh and help me keep perspective.”
At his office, McCraney, owner of the McCraney Property Co. based in West Palm Beach, toggles between two desktop screens and his iPad.
A mountain-climber and father of three, McCraney tries to seize opportunities in the real estate market and squeeze in family and exercise. Although his iPad connects him to work from his home, he might also use one of his desktop screens to email a fellow climber, or one of his daughters. McCraney says the blending works for him: “I’m juiced. I can’t wait to go to work every day.”
Columnist Cindy Krischer Goodman writes weekly on work/life issues and the search for balance. Connect with her at BalanceGal@gmail.com or visit www.worklifebalancingact.com.