Impacts of Hyperconnectivity
We now live in an information age where work is being rethought beyond the traditional bounds of space and time. The development of mobile infrastructure technology, new devices and applications has had a strong impact on the effectiveness and efficiency of mobile work. Employees are able to choose to work anywhere with a Wi-Fi or 4G connection coupled with a laptop, smartphone, or tablet and online communication and collaboration tools.
“Hyperconnectivity” is a condition that most of us experience, which requires management of multiple means of communication, such as email, instant messaging, telephone, face-to-face contact and Web 2.0 information. As mobile technologies have become so pervasive in human life, there has been a proliferation of claims supporting the idea that individuals need to construct boundaries between their work and private domains to protect themselves from the dangers of constant connectivity.
In some cases, particularly in junior roles we can be exploited by a dysfunctional culture or an uncaring manager, and at those times we need to protect ourselves to avoid burnout. But as we advance professionally we’re less subject to those external forces, and we need to protect ourselves primarily from our own internal drive. The concept of work/life balance can be misleading because it implies a similar weighting of work and private activities. In reality, the two aren’t even measurable because we lead increasingly integrated lives, facilitated through mobile technology and social media. The answer is to substitute “boundaries” for “balance”: while balance requires an unsteady equilibrium among the various demands on our time and energy, boundaries offer a sustainable means of keeping things in their proper place.
Individuals experiencing stress and frustration due to failing work/life boundaries should as a first port of call consider their level of identification with their work. There needs to be consistency between boundary management and identity in order to avoid internal conflicts of interest. Workaholics or people with high levels of identification with work that construct many work/life boundaries are sending a mixed message to others.
Due to advances in technology, work has become a highly social activity and provides an opportunity to communicate to others our own values and interests. This behaviour is beneficial to our work because we come across as more sociable individuals but most importantly it helps others share our understanding of our own identity. It is by building shared understanding of identity that individuals come to respect our boundaries.
Constructing cognitive boundaries (e.g. making a persistent, dedicated effort to change impulsive behaviour) is recognized by individuals to be beneficial but few apply the concept in practice. Individuals need to make a mental effort to resist impulses to use technology in situations where it is not needed. Sometimes boundaries do fail and too often we blame others around us. We think that work has forced an integration but actually it is quite often the individual that subconsciously integrates facets of their lives because they are aiming to increase their mobility, flexibility or productivity. We can’t have it both ways. We should be more reflective before making integrations that require us to install boundaries in the future. For example, it may be wise for us to ask ourselves if we need to give our mobile number to a particular contact before we establish with them when they are allowed to contact us.
James Kanter is a mobile technology consultant at 4G Scotland. He has an MSc in information systems management from Warwick Business School and specialises in enterprise mobility management solutions.