V3 Enterprise Mobility Summit: Being constantly switched on to our work through technology is a problem for the globalised workplace.
To be available anywhere and anytime can be very positive in that it allows us to work flexibly, for example remotely in the evenings or at different locations away from work.
However, there is a darker side to being 'always on' because working past normal hours can sometimes be detrimental to our health, well-being and personal relationships as we forget to switch off.
A survey I conducted found that mental health problems can emerge for remote workers in that they may feel isolated from colleagues, and their boundaries may become blurred, sometimes working a double or triple shift and occasionally leading to burnout.
Tiredness and other health problems (headaches, eye strain) can emerge through working long hours and using technology without exercising or taking regular breaks.
Research indicates that having a good work-life balance can contribute to our personal effectiveness at work and our well-being, both of which improve productivity.
This issue of ‘always on' could be a ticking time bomb as the younger generation may be even more switched on than the present generation by ‘residing' in the cyber world of social media, while older generations tend to dip in and out using technology more practically for work, to find out information or develop relationships.
Technology continues to develop at a fast pace and it is likely that smart contact lenses and clothing with technology incorporated will become another way of communicating. It is human nature to communicate, and being ‘switched on' is another way of staying involved.
However, managing this impulse is going to be very important in the future and may require an acknowledgement that an individual's specific competencies and personal skills may have an impact on how well they manage this culture.
So what makes a resilient e-worker, capable of adapting to work in the digital age? A study I carried out about typical e-workers found that self-discipline and prioritising work are key behaviours that support effective remote working.
Conscientiousness is also a common trait, which may also explain why some feel the need to be logged on and to work past normal hours.
Those who can manage the boundaries between work and non-working activities also tend to be more resilient by ensuring that their availability is clearly defined and understood by all involved, including work supervisors, family and friends.
HR can play an important role in developing more resilient remote workers. Controls on when staff can use email have been implemented by some organisations.
This restrictive practice can help with managing boundaries and overwork, but it may also have the negative effect of reducing flexibility for employees who would genuinely benefit from the availability that technology offers.
HR managers should instead ensure that employees understand the organisational culture, through training and related policies, and make available well-being programmes that incorporate ‘always on' issues and how to manage them effectively.
I've also found that line managers can be good (or poor) role models for remote workers. For example, if line managers continue to work and email into the night employees may feel pressured to respond.
It is always important to realise that there is a choice and that being disciplined and well organised can help to manage self-expectations and those of supervisors.
Dr Christine Grant is an occupational psychologist at Coventry University's Centre for Research in Psychology, Behaviour and Achievement.
She has developed an e-work life tool that measures the impact of remote working on work-life balance, job effectiveness and well-being. Details can be found at ework-life solutions.
For insights on remote working and mobility register for the V3 Enterprise Mobility Summit.
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