Managing Mobile Guilt - How I Integrate Work and Life

I am a proud member of a new generation of people -- Generation M. People like me are typically 18-34 year old males (I've aged out, unfortunately) or those who have children under 18 (I have two beautiful daughters).  Gen M people, like me, tend to blend work activities and personal activities throughout the day, and we use a variety of mobile technologies to do so.  This is not to say that non-Gen M people don't; it's that we do it more frequently.  In fact, more than 1/4 (26%) of the work we do is exclusively on smartphones and tablets.

Interestingly, our recent research indicates that 58% of Gen M feels guilty about doing personal tasks during established work hours. I must be in the 42%, because I don't feel guilty about it at all. Let's take a look at why that is.

1. Shifting My Mentality

I like to say that "work" is a thing you do and not a place you go. I don't go to work; I do work. I could go to the office, or a customer's site, or a conference, or a coffee house, or many other places to get work done.  I didn't always think this way, however.

Early in my career, I worked as a system administrator for a very large tech company. Part of my work duties included being on call for problems and outages, and the solutions to some of those required me to physically go inside our datacenters.  The company's culture was such that I could work at home (we called it WAH) occasionally, as long as I didn't need to be in the datacenter. Even if I was at home, I still had to be present -- easily reachable -- during all of our established working hours.

Pager duty was a different story, however. This was before broadband cellular connectivity, and barely after Wi-Fi became a consumer standard. If I was on pager duty, I had to stay in relatively close proximity to my laptop, a wired connection, and the datacenter.

These two concepts -- being easily reachable and being in close proximity -- drove my initial working mindset.  I would thus feel guilty if I took a long lunch, for example, because I wasn't easily reachable and couldn't take immediate action when needed.

As I advanced my career, I moved from relying on my laptop to relying on my smartphone. It has become the single most important piece of technology for me.  My smartphone allows me to be easily reachable, and my role now requires me to be in many different places at different times of the day and week. It's been challenging for me to change mindsets from assuming I had to be readily available -- in one place -- to being virtually available anywhere at nearly any time.  The hardest part was embracing the idea that "availability" shifted from stationary -- a computer at the office -- to mobile. Essentially I'm always available as long as I have a network connection. (Ironically, as I'm writing this on my tablet, I'm on a plane without connectivity, and yet I'm still doing work.)

2. Setting Boundaries

Being available anywhere is an extremely powerful capability, and with it comes a set of challenges. The biggest challenge is setting boundaries. If you, your team, your manager, and your family all want you to be available during every waking hour, I guarantee you'll burn out. Being always on is not healthy for you or your relationships -- personal and business. 

To manage this, you need to set clear boundaries. Our family has a rule that we don't use devices at the table. That includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There are rare occasions that we break the rule (admittedly it's hard not to), but we're pretty strict about it. That rule allows us to engage with each other, be truly present, and eliminate distractions.  I've started trying to enforce the same behavior with my business colleagues.

3. Being Transparent

In order to make these boundaries effective, you must communicate them clearly to everyone you interact with. Simple things like enabling an Out of Office message, blocking times off in your calendar, and emailing your team with updates go a long way.  The same things apply to your family; they need to know when you will be working and, more importantly, when you'll be focusing on them.

Without transparency you will create problems. Your family won't know what you're up to, and neither will your colleagues and management. That type of doubt is poisonous to your reputation and your relationships.

Being transparent also allows you to be extremely flexible. If you need to go pick your kids up from school, schedule it and let everyone know. You'll probably end up working a little later that day, and that is typically a fair trade. You can be available when your family needs you, and you can get your work done on time as well.  Not every scenario will work this way, but many can and do.

The Modern Workforce and a Culture of Connectivity

We live in a time of unprecedented connectivity. The human race has never been closer together. As a proud Gen M'er, I've embraced these new capabilities and the challenges that come with them. I don't feel guilty about checking my personal email while I'm working, primarily because I know I will do the reverse as well. As long as I'm transparent about my schedule, I also no longer feel guilty about taking a long lunch or running an errand during the day. I've shifted my mindset, set boundaries, and communicated transparently. I'm living (and loving) the Gen M work style.

Brett Belding