Some thoughts on modern communications and the boundary between work and play…

A few months ago, I wrote a post for the Fujitsu CTO Blog about modern communications. In it, I posited the concept of “service level agreements“ for corporate communications:

“[…] regaining productivity has to be about controlling the interruptions. I suggest closing Outlook. Think of it as an email/calendar client – not the place in which to spend one’s day – and the “toast” that pops up each time a message arrives is a distraction. Even having the application open is a distraction. Dip in 3 times a day, 5 times a day, every hour, or however often is appropriate but emails should not require nor expect an immediate response. Then there’s instant messaging: the name “instant” suggests the response time but presence is a valuable indicator – if my presence is “busy”, then I probably am. Try to contact me if you like but don’t be surprised if I ignore it until a better time. Finally, social networking: which is both a great aid to influencing others and to keeping abreast of developments but can also be what my wife would call a “time-Hoover” – so don’t even think that you can read every message – just dip in from time to time and join the conversation, then leave again.”

I started to think about this again last week. I was on holiday but that doesn’t mean I stopped communicating with my colleagues. I’ll admit it let me be selective in my responses (i.e. there are a lot of things happening at work right now and I answered the messages that were important or interesting to me, leaving many items for my return – after all, I had set an out of office message) but there were a few times when my wife asked me if I was working, as she saw me tapping away on my iPhone…

I maintain that work is something I do, not a place where I go and that, in this day and age (and at my level of responsibility), there is a grey area between work and play so I was enraged when I read an idiotic post about how telecommuting does not work (hello, 1980 is calling… and it wants you back…). Indeed, my “home-base” is one of the things that attracts me to my current role. Getting me back into a 5-day commute to an office that’s probably at least an hour (and maybe two) from home will require some serious persuasion…

So where is the line? Should we all leave the office and stop checking our devices at the end of “the working day”? What about social networking – part of my job is to build a reputation (and therefore enhance my employer’s) as a thought leader – should I ignore something on Twitter because it’s not “work time”? Or should I ignore Twitter, Foursquare, etc. because it is “work time”? Should I be writing this blog post at 8.30pm? But then again, it is on my personal blog… even if a version of the post might eventually appear on a company-owned website…

In the end, I suggest that the answer is about outputs, not inputs. If I’m producing results, my management team should (and, in fairness, probably will) be comfortable, regardless of how many hours I put in. On the flip-side, there are times when I need to work some very long days just to make sure that I can produce those results – and I’ll get frustrated with organisational challenges, non-functioning IT, pointless meetings and disruptive colleagues, just as everyone else does in a modern office environment.

The days of the 9-5 job are long gone (for knowledge workers at least), but so are the 8-6s and even the 8-8s. We live in a 24 hour society – and the new challenge is finding a balance between “work” and “play”.  I’d be interested to hear your thoughts…

One thought on “Some thoughts on modern communications and the boundary between work and play…


  1. I can certainly relate to the points you raise here Mark. However, try getting those people who still believe in 9-5 to accept that “I was working from 5am, so I’m going home early today” or “I was working late last night, so I’m coming in late tomorrow” seems to be almost impossible.
    Certainly, the idea of ‘downtime’ during the working day – even if it just 10 minutes to catch up on Twitter – is looked upon as time wasting, whilst 10 minutes grabbing a cup of coffee and chatting to colleagues seems to be perfectly acceptable.
    I say this as a generalisation, not about any of the companies I have directly worked for, but I know that discussions with friends have highlighted many of the same issues.
    I guess that we’ll see the ‘blend’ that you refer to become more common as the people who currently make up the ‘workers’ become ‘managers’ and the like. Or until we’re all freelancing I suppose? :)

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