Work-life balance in digitalizing world: How is it organized?

The impact of digitalization on both work and home life has been dramatic. Being able to balance the two is a modern day challenge that drives a significant amount of concern.

Digitalization - once a fiction, now a reality

Chances are you have heard the word digitalization. Over the past few years it has become a widely used term associated with the changes brought about by the so-called ‘digital revolution’. Digitalization refers to the integration of new digital technologies into everyday life, across all industries and sectors. In essence, it is about the connecting and combining of physical and digital things in new ways, and many consider it to be one of the defining characteristics of modern life.

Digitalization has transformed the workings of our society including the way that it is structured and the way it communicates. Every aspect of life is increasingly shifting to digital communication and media infrastructures. Ten years ago it would have been impossible to imagine being able to access any piece of information from a device in the palm of our hand.

What does this mean in practice?

The way that we interact with technology is evolving, in many ways making life a lot easier. For the first time in history we have a single communications infrastructure linking everything.

It is also reshaping all aspects of the working lifestyle and environment. Thanks to technological advances we now have the ability to overcome traditional barriers imposed by geography, time and IT access. It is increasingly enabling popular work approaches such as telecommuting, distributed teams, online work, and even entirely virtual companies, meaning that businesses and employees are empowered with new found freedom and flexibility to work whenever, however and with whomever they like.

Work-life balance

Consequences to the individual employee: blurred lines

From an employee’s perspective, digitalization drastically affects the way in which we combine work and personal time. With the help of digital tools, which have become a huge part of our daily personal lives, employees can be more efficient and flexible, fitting work around their personal lifestyle and routine.

As a consequence, the line between work and home life is increasingly blurred. Responding to personal calls at work and sending work e-mails at home after hours is the norm – a socially accepted practice. This level of flexibility and tight knit relationship between work and home is almost unavoidable, especially in international business. Employees are expected to be highly organised - seamlessly managing work and home simultaneously. For many businesses, the need for employees to be available at unusual, once unsociable, personal hours is an unspoken expectation. It is no longer acceptable to simply switch off the server in the evening or use one’s ‘right to be unavailable’.

Enterprises that embrace the digital working environment take advantage of cross boarder communication with people often working different schedules in multiple time zones. Being at work is no longer defined by a designated location, but by attention to a task.

Rather than a physical location work is now about employee state of mind. If managed effectively, business operations never cease. However internally, this requires high levels of connectivity and employee availability to function successfully.

According to Charles Piazza’s paper on 24/7 workplace connectivity, there are four points of view on this. Firstly, there are employees that find it exciting and psychologically rewarding. Secondly, those who find it demanding but necessary in today’s competitive environment. The third category finds it unsatisfying, but accepts it, whereas the final category chooses an alternative work manner that reduces demand on availability.

What is clear is that in a digitalized and dispersed business climate, work-life balance is a complex issue.

Important questions include, for example, whether the workday ever really comes to a close? Also, how can the employer ensure that work and personal boundaries are established in a manner that maintains and promotes quality of life?

How to bring back boundaries?

In a digitalized workplace, it is the employers’ responsibility to bring order to the ‘chaos’ with appropriate IT tools, a corporate mobility policy and clearly defined expectations regarding employee availability.

Flexible, efficient working cannot be instilled unless employees are provided with the tools and mechanics to embrace it. Gone are the days of simply ensuring that the office broadband connection is the fastest available. IT departments now need to ensure that employees have access to email, phone and high speed internet whilst on the move. These requirements are achieved in a number of ways; smartphones, laptops and reliable personal data hotspot devices such as the Goodspeed device. Expectations cannot be met without the appropriate tools.

UROS has embraced the digital culture. The increasing need for connectivity on the move inspired the creation of the Goodspeed 4G hotspot device. Performance, speed and security are absolutely crucial. The Goodspeed device is digitalization’s enabler – providing employers with the knowledge and peace of mind that their employees can work wherever and whenever.

Digitalization encourages productivity. Productivity is most efficient when people have solid, uninterrupted time to get work done. However if employees are forced to chase Internet access, those periods of continuous concentration and activity are interrupted.

Goodspeed ensures that international business is a success, keeping employees such as sales people connected 24/7, no matter where they are in the world and reducing the number of lost business hours.

However, the tools alone will not digitalize a business. In addition to simply providing access to the technology, there is a need for companies to adapt processes accordingly. For example, an effective mobile management strategy needs to be introduced and clear boundaries need to be defined to ensure employee happiness, passion and support.

Connected but with enough freedom

Work-life balance in the digital age is no longer clearly defined and separated. It is crucial that employers find ways to connect and integrate the two. The reality of digitalization’s impact on balancing work and home should be one of flexibility and freedom, when managed appropriately.

It is vital businesses work together to design, implement and agree efficient digital communication systems and policies to improve business operations with as little intrusion to home life and leisure time as possible. The digital world is 24/7, but downtime should be included in every schedule without the need to feel guilty about it. Society cannot ignore the risks that digitalization can cause. We must work together to encourage a connected environment with realistic, humane expectations.

- Unna @Uros