Just because workers are checking their Facebook in the office, doesn’t mean they’re not committed to their work, says Samsung’s Rob Orr
Something’s changed in the office. It’s quite a subtle change, but once you’ve noticed it, you can’t ignore it. Maybe it’s happened at your workplace too.
People are using social media openly at work.
Not a big deal? Perhaps you’ve always worked for companies with a relaxed policy towards social media, but traditionally employers have seen it as the thief of their employees’ time, and access has either been reluctantly restricted to lunch breaks, banned outright or even blocked completely.
Now, in the offices I visit (and my own) it’s not uncommon to see workers doing their personal banking or shopping, tweeting or Facebooking – all quite openly. What happened? Did we become a nation of slackers, so arrogant and entitled that we don’t even try to hide our contempt for our employers and our fellow colleagues?
No, actually. In fact, office workers are fully committed to their work – so much so that a large majority of us say that we use our personal time for work tasks. That is the finding from new research by Samsung into the work-life behaviour of British and European office workers. While three quarters of us admit to doing personal tasks during the 9-to-5, an even higher proportion of us say that we take our work home with us – answering emails on our commute, or working on our spreadsheets at the dinner table.
It’s clear that we are not so much balancing our work and personal lives, but blending them. It seems that this is having a positive effect, too: a third of us say that it helps us get more done in the same amount of time, and the same proportion say it makes them less stressed. In this context, the greater relaxation shown by employers regarding non-work-related websites in the office makes sense. This new attitude is also filtering through to workers, with less than a third saying that their employers do not trust them to blend their personal and work lives.
While it has always been possible to take work home with us, the ubiquity of work-life blending that our research shows points to a deeper, more fundamental shift to how employees approach work. We’re still responsible employees, but we now have the means to work to our own rhythm. With smartphones and tablets, we now carry the equivalent of an office in our pockets. What’s more, the distinction between work and personal devices is also becoming increasingly blurred. Almost half of us use our own personal device for work tasks, and a third use their corporate-issued device for personal activities.
We see this new way of working as being enabled by technology, but also requiring people to learn new technological and self-management skills. Indeed, it is little surprise that the trend towards work-life blending is especially strong among the Millennial generation, those currently aged between 18 and 34. This suggests that the trend towards employee empowerment is ongoing and likely to keep growing – but only if workers treat their new-found freedom with responsibility.
There is, however, one factor that might provoke a backlash akin to the draconian Facebook-blocking policies of old. This is the research’s finding that employees will use whatever technology they feel most comfortable with – even if it’s against company rules. Three in ten workers say that they have used their personal device to overcome company-imposed obstacles to work, such as blocked websites. For Millennials, the figure is almost two in five. Meanwhile, most of us profess ignorance of our employers’ mobile security policies or, if we are aware of them, we ignore them.
This is the main threat to our new world of work-life blending. While workers have shown themselves to be responsible in their approach to getting the work done, a cavalier approach to security will see the bosses pulling up the drawbridge again.
Ultimately, the continued success of work-life blending depends on co-operation. Businesses and IT managers need to relinquish a certain amount of control a little and accept that workers are more productive when they can work on their own terms. But employees must also realise that they have a responsibility to work safely, and within the rules laid down by their company.
The fact that social media is now used openly in the office is a positive sign for work-life blending. It shows that employees don’t feel they have to justify themselves by looking busy, but instead by producing good and timely work. It’s a mature and responsible attitude. If we can extend that responsibility towards using technology securely, then the work-life blend will only continue to benefit employees and employers alike.