Don't Bring Your iPhone to Dinner
For many workers in the modern economy, the conversation regarding “work-life balance” has fundamentally changed. The ever-improving nature of telecommunications and the ever-growing number of web-enabled, “connected” devices have blurred the boundary between office and home - and everywhere in between.
Of course, it’s worth noting this conversation is primarily focused on professionals in the knowledge economy. The boundary between “office and home” is still relatively clear for most oil rig workers, ski instructors and carpenters, or any job heavily reliant on “physical inputs or natural resources” - in such lines of work, the factors determining work-life balance typically remain: (i) the number of days a week working, on the clock, and (ii) the length of a day's shift.
It's also worth noting this conversation isn't groundbreaking. Many people and various media outlets have been (continuously) discussing the concept of work-life balance for years; that said, it's still refreshing to see the nuance found in articles such as this Forbes list, The Best Jobs for Work-Life Balance (July 2014), which rightly points out the balance is increasingly not just about the hours spent at the office. The knowledge economy professional is responding to her work emails via smartphone before getting in the shower, making phone calls via Bluetooth during the morning drive and logging into RDP from home after the kids go to bed - all of these digital "sessions" are work, and should be viewed as such.
Rehashing, and attempting to refine, the work-life balance conversation is certainly not to argue for working less. In fact, today's workforce should celebrate the increased productivity brought on by the new "connected life" and simply try to get more accomplished; however, the connected life should be viewed as it is: new - and with it there should be new rules of conduct.
On the institutional level, employers of knowledge economy professionals should stop insisting on strictly enforced office hours, entrusting employees to manage projects and responsibilities, not face time.
Too many companies and managers pay lip service to the flexible work day, but silently penalize those who embrace it. (Hire good people, and trust them.)
On the individual level, workers should remember to disconnect at some points throughout the day.
Don't bring your iPhone to dinner. (Yes, it's great that Outlook, Gmail and Evernote keep you connected across all your devices, but do you need to check-in between the main course and dessert?)
The point is...
There are always exceptions: early morning meetings, traders tethered to their desks during market hours and last-minute deadlines requiring all hands on deck - not to mention it's important to be present and build personal relationships with colleagues - in the office; however, we should strive to live (and work) consciously:
Don't fall into the trap of doing things a certain way just because that's how they've previously been done.