I had planned to attend the “Social Networking: the essence of innovation” session, but as it wasn’t really what I’d expected (and I couldn’t read the slides from the back of the room – too many complex diagrams with tiny writing!) I left it and looked for something else instead. I ended up in “Be the CEO of Your Life: Finding Balance in the Flexible Job Age”: a talk by Ellen Kossek, author of a book on the same subject.
When I came in, Ellen was discussing whether we should “disconnect”: staying connected all the time can be detrimental to your health, work and home life. She pointed out that many “high talent” people find their lives unmanageable. She also argued that we have ended up in this situation of people trying to do too much first of all because employers reward work/life imbalance: a culture of “work first” means that it is important to be seen to be available all the time and to be visible in your workplace; but also because technology has made it possible. Having a laptop and Blackberry was supposed to mean that you can control where and when you work, but in practice has meant that there is no time away from work. Ellen also pointed out that multi-tasking can be very inefficient: e.g. anyone who has tried to make a phone call and write an email at the same time knows that you usually end up with a poorly-written email and an unproductive phone call.
Identifying your own “flexstyle” was discussed: the type of work/life management that you personally find most productive. Three main styles were suggested: “integrators”, who will take personal phone calls and organise their social lives from work, but will also take work home with them on evenings and weekends; “separators”, who only focus on work in work hours and will switch off entirely in non-work time; and “volleyers” who have periods of both styles. Ellen also pointed out that these styles are not necessarily down to choice: you may be a natural integrator but your employer will not allow the flexibility required; or you may be a separator but your employer insists that you are contactable outside of work hours.
Some suggestions were made on how to identify what areas of your life need more time and where you could reduce the amount of time spent; and how to identify the flexstyles of not only yourself, but your colleagues, manager(s) and any staff you manage. I thought there could have been more concrete suggestions on how to tackle a situation where your employer was demanding more of you than you could give, but otherwise this was a good, practical session. I’m not sure how I’d implement much of it at the moment: as I’m currently managing my work/life/study balance, there’s not much room for me to rearrange anything to give me more personal time! The conversation about different flexstyles was interesting: I’m (mostly) a separator, so I tend to get a little annoyed at colleagues who are running their personal lives from the office. Ellen pointed this out as a common source of conflicts between those two personality types, and suggested seeing it from the others perspective: integrators will typically get annoyed at separators for not answering emails out of office hours, and disappearing from the office bang on 5pm. Definitely something to remember for the future.