The Way We Work

“We came from work that was rigid — it was structured, it was on premise — and we’re moving to a world where work is on demand and virtual.”
— Gary Swart, oDesk CEO, GigaOM Net:Work 2011 Conference

You respond to emails from clients while on the sidelines of a soccer game; you talk to your financial advisor about your investments between a sales presentation and a team meeting. At home or at work, we increasingly switch between our personal and professional lives at a moment’s notice.

With the rapidly growing adoption of Work 3.0, in which work is flexible and on demand — and can be done anytime and anywhere — it can be difficult to keep the two spheres separate.

This trend impacts the way we do business, and especially how we make key business decisions, according to a recent report from Forbes Insights. The report, titled @Work State of Mind, looks at the new workplace, where personal and professional lives blend so closely that business decisions are made at all hours of the day.

“Technology has caused work to expand to longer hours of the day and has attached work to people wherever they are,” wrote Rick Segal, President Worldwide and Chief Practice Officer of gyro, the advertising firm that partnered with Forbes to create the report.

The report focuses largely on business-to-business marketing, but also reveals how ingrained this meshed lifestyle has become. Some key general findings:

  • People most at ease with this lifestyle are those who feel most in control. “They are good at separating work from personal time,” the report noted. “Only 15% of them said they are rarely or never able to do so, versus 24% of those who feel a lack of control.” Both groups work outside typical work hours; the difference seems to stem from a mental ability to separate the two.
  • While this overlap is also a reality in Europe, the report found that European executives are more bothered by it than their American counterparts: “Three in 10 European respondents (30%) said that they felt irritated by the blending of work and personal time, compared with 19% of Americans.”
  • Social networks are piercing the business world. “About two in three respondents (67%) said that such work-related networks play a significant role in business, and 56% said that personal social networks influence their determinations.”

Work is no longer a place

As gyro CEO Christopher Becker wrote, “Work is no longer a place, but a state of mind. There are no boundaries between work and leisure. It’s now just life.”

While some may see this as a negative shift, the report indicates that our constant access to technology — and the resulting ability to work anytime, anywhere — also sets you free, by providing the flexibility to attend to personal priorities during what was previously thought to be strictly work time.

In other words, people are defining their own balance and their own working hours. The survey data supports this sentiment, finding that the “stream and volume of information” available at all times makes 40% of respondents feel empowered, and makes 44% feel well-prepared to make key business decisions.

The full @Work State of Mind report is available for free (with basic registration) from Forbes Insights.

Has the blend of personal and professional had an impact on your life? How do you switch between the two? Leave your advice in the comments section below.

Amy Sept

Managing Editor

As the managing editor of the Upwork blog, Amy Sept works with regular and guest writers to share information that helps freelancers and businesses navigate the future of work. She owns Nimbyist Communications and helps non-profits, startups, and small business owners get their content marketing on track.