91% of US, UK, and Australian workers work during “personal time”

The trend toward “work time” gobbling up “personal time” has reached a new high, or low, depending on your viewpoint. A Jive survey released this week finds that more than 91% of US, UK, and Australian workers reported working during non-business hours. 37% or US workers report working more than 10 hours per week during “personal time” as do 27% of UK workers and 18% of Australians.
Note that I am putting personal and work time in scare quotes because this study makes clear that the lifeslicing trend is rising, and the distinctions between personal and work are eroding.
I have written a great deal about the rise of the 3D workforce, one that is distributed, decentralized, and discontinuous. This lifeslicing is an element of the discontinuities of work today, much of which is beneficial to the worker and the business, like the ability to work nearly anywhere,  thanks to ubiquitous connectivity and smart devices. The survey found that 62% of US workers polled use their personal smartphones or tablets for work, along with 51% of Australians, and 36% of UK workers.  But another, more pernicious aspect of this discontinuous work is the expectation to carve large chunks out of your evening or weekend answering email, or completing some time-critical task.  And as the survey shows, 63% polled said they would use an extra 10 hours to spend more time with family and friends.
The study also showed that vacation time is being lifesliced too, with 50% of US workers polled saying they devote time to work while on vacation, along with 51% of Aussies. The Brits are a bit more reluctant to do so, with only 34% concurring.
The work/life balance is becoming increasingly elusive, while monumental amounts of “work time” is wasted on pointless meetings and responding to unnecessary levels of email communication. One of the key elements for the future workplace is a relaxing of the strong ties of the current operating doctrine for business. The need for consensus and centralized decision-making eats up huge amounts of time and energy which could otherwise be directed toward actual work and delivering value to customers. Relaxing the strong bonds of direct reporting — as just the most obvious example — makes companies looser, faster, and less time-demanding.
In a business world where many are adding 10 or more hours on top of 40 or 50 baseline work hours, plus commuting, and the maintenance of a minimized personal and family life, how are workers supposed to increase their skills or knowledge about their field, discipline, or industry? Where is the necessary time to look out the window and dream a big dream, or to network with colleagues outside the bounded circle of your current projects?
Business leaders will have to come to grips with these central questions as they continue to seek new wellsprings of productivity, because the mining the slack in people’s time has reached the point of diminishing returns, and then some. The source of new productivity will have to be found in doing things differently, at a foundational level, and not just speeding up the assembly line and making the staff work double shifts.

Jennifer Magnolfi on Marrisa Mayer’s ‘no remote work’ edict

I was talking with Jennifer Magnolfi, a leading proponent of the new thinking behind workplace design and its impact on innovation, creativity, and work culture. Since I had her on the line, I thought I’d get her take on Marissa Mayer’s motivations for the recent Yahoo ‘no remote work’ edict.

Stowe Boyd: I wanted to take a minute to get your thoughts about Marissa Meyers ‘no remote work’ edict.  it’s not in effect yet, it will be going into effect in June. There’s all sorts of controversy about it but I think the biggest question is does it represent a step backward to the panopticon notion that workers have to be watched in order to be productive?

Jennifer Magnolfi: Yes, of course I’m familiar with the case. There’s been a storm online of responses: critics and supporters alike have shared their opinions. From my perspective I wouldn’t attribute to this business decision to a broader statement of about the way we should work in the 21st century. I would imagine this to be a more specific business tactic, serving a near-term strategy to reinvent and bring the company forward to a degree of innovation that hasn’t been present there in a while.

Boyd: I think that’s the most generous interpretation I’ve seen. Various entrepreneurs are saying she has a problem, her house is on fire, and she has to put it out. The fact that she believes pouring water over the building is the best thing to do now doesn’t mean she wants it soaking wet for the rest of all time.

Magnolfi: I just got back from Las Vegas where I worked with another business leader of a tech company who is making a very specific, conscious investment in the importance of the physical environment of the culture. At Zappos, Tony Hsieh sees that as having strategic importance for the future of the business. It is widely known that this is what Tony has brought to his company. And to the world of business management — from a purely research-based perspective — it sounds really contrary to the mainstream view. And many people outside of Yahoo think companies benefit from the concept of worker mobility.

This is one of the biggest shifts in technology, and that has caused shifts in business culture, and in the social contract between employees and employers. From a purely research perspective there is no doubt that the potential for increasing knowledge creation, or the probability of increasing knowledge creation (which just means the creation of new ideas) is much higher when you are able to combine digital space interaction and physical space interaction. When you can combine the serendipity or the seemingly random knowledge streams you have online to offline, and to develop a ‘community of work’: it’s obviously a tremendous asset.

Boyd: I agree to the extent that you are looking at it micro-economically, relative to a single business for a short period of time.

Magnolfi:: I don’t think Yahoo’s internal strategy has been disclosed. I certainly haven’t come across it. It strikes me that it makes sense that one of the tactics that Mayer is deploying — at a specific moment in time — to reignite or accelerate a certain type of performance. I just can’t imagine the company or certainly Ms Meyer isn’t aware of the potential mobile technology has. Given her previous track record,  I’m a little less shocked by this. For a quite a bit of time now, I’ve been studying the potential and actual benefits of certain types of interactions being augmented in the physical environment.

Boyd: The term I use is concidensity: by increasing the density of people you are increasing the probability of coincidence, or serendipity.

Magnolfi: That’s a really good term, it’s a really fun term. I think if you are in that position, why wouldn’t you leverage that asset? I guess that’s the question I would ask, not knowing the internal context. I guess I’m not as harsh a critic of that, since it’s a tactical move. I don’t think it means more than that at this point.

Yes, I think coincidensity is a useful (and fun) term, one that I stole outright from Matt Biddulph, formerly of Dopplr. And I have to grant that Mayer is trying to make a cultural shift: specifically trying to get a culture that has been running in a fast-and-loose, networked way to a more tight-and-slow, collective mindset.

Mayer thinks that sort of culture is what is needed to turn the boat at Yahoo, and, grant you, she might be right. But it is running cross-grained against a number of newly instituted cultural work norms related to the  value of higher individual autonomy, results-oriented work, and application of social and mobile tools to support distributed, disconnected, and decentralized work.

What is my research agenda for 2013?

I’ve been putting off writing about my research agenda for the year, since I just assumed this new role of Social ‘curator’ for GigaOM Research (formerly GigaOM Pro) back in early December. Two months later I think I can talk a bit more about my focus and goals.

Obviously, social business is a very hot marketplace. There’s a lot going on, with major vendors aggressively positioning themselves for a leadership position in what is going to be a huge marketplace, already projected for be headed for tens of billions per year in this decade.

Here is an outline that I intend to fill in over the coming weeks. Ping me on Twitter (@stoweboyd) if I have left something critical out.

Social Business:

Technologies, techniques and communities related to work media (enterprise social networks), social selling (CRM), social media/social marketing, social talent management (HR), social knowledge, social design (and I plan to dig in deeply to the world of developers (Github, Stack Overflow), and designers (Behance)).

Economic and societal drivers, like accommodating the 3D workforce (distributed, decentralized, and discontinuous), the postnormal economy, the power of social density.

Other themes: Debunking the myths of management, social cognition, science not folklore, network science, social literacy.

Future of Work

Post PC, BYOD, BYOS, 3D workforce.

Coworking, workplace design, generational change, remote work.

Innovation and creativity, play, mindfulness, attention, open collaboration.

In the near term I am working on a report that explores a number of themes on the future of work, and I will write a series of posts in the next few weeks on those topics, leading toward that report. At the end of the year I plan to return to a roadmap on work media tools, and revisiting that vitally important area. I am planning several others, one of which is likely to be an examination of the social communities and technologies used by designers and developers.

More to follow.

Remote workers are more engaged?

In the recently published Work Media Roadmap, we identified one trend that is having the biggest impacts on business today, in the context of adopting social tools in general, and work media tools (enterprise social networks) specifically. I called this the 3D Workforce:

Traditional work is being uprooted today:

  • Workers are increasingly mobile, and their expectation is that they can and must work wherever they are. Work can be performed at home, in the train, at a coffee shop, and in the office, and we have increasing autonomy in deciding where and when to do what.
  • Individuals and organizations increasingly do not recognize a clear break between work hours and leisure time, for better and for worse. The discontinuity inherent in “lifeslicing” has deep societal implications, and it is happening at an increasing rate.
  • Work is commonly shared across geographically dispersed workers, different companies, and a growing number of freelancers, whose contributions are now estimated at more than 35 percent of all professional and creative work in the U.S.
  • People also timeshift across projects, making work discontinuous. As a result, people are becoming used to working on loosely coordinated, short-term projects, with a growing reliance on results-only work styles and decreasing organizational infrastructure and oversight.

There is also a fourth D: disengagement. There has been a strong increase in the proportion of workers that are disengaged in the past five years, perhaps doubling from 1 in 10 to 1 in five. And the costs of this disengagement can be very high, since high performance is unlikely in the disengaged, and they can cause resentment among others. Obviously, management should try to counter disengagement in whatever ways possible.

Scott Edinger has identified one factor that could be relatively easy to manipulate. He thinks that remote workers — those that work somewhere other than where their boss works — are more engaged.

Scott Edinger, Why Remote Workers Are More (Yes, More) Engaged

The team members who were not in the same location with their leaders were more engaged and committed — and rated the same leader higher — than team members sitting right nearby. While the differences were not enormous (a couple of tenths of a point in both categories), they were enough to provoke some interesting speculations as to why this might be happening.

Edinger’s points are worth exploring, but they share a interesting commonality: when workers are remote, the leader’s behaviors change, and that — Edinger thinks — makes all the difference.

Proximity breeds complacency. — Edinger argues that managers tend to overlook opportunities to communicate with people they see all the time. This accords with other research that shows that working in open layouts lead to more communication but more superficial communication.

Absence makes people try harder to connect. — Managers have to set time aside and schedule calls with remote workers, which makes meetings more organized and productive.

Leaders of virtual teams make a better use of tools. — The array of communication tools available, including video conferencing, work media, telephone, instant messaging, and so on, mean that remote works can communicate in the most appropriate way for a particular purpose. For example, posting comments in a Google Doc is much more helpful than handwaving in a face-to-face meeting.

Leaders of far-flung teams maximize the time their teams spend together. — Edinger believes that when remote workers invest the time to meet physically, the time is organized more rigorously, and it is more of an event, not just-another-thursday status meeting. This can create better results since everyone takes on more planning before hand, and they are less likely to divert their attention during the joint time.

So, letting people work remotely a very simple method to up engagement, and calls mostly for a change in managers’ thinking and time allocation. Perhaps that’s why it is not as common as it might be, since managers are the ones that have to lead that change.