What digital media did to ‘work’

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The evolution of digital technologies have had various consequences within the workspace ecology: Its organisational strengths allowing companies to operate with less employees. Its information sharing, storing and communication facilities allowing employees to work from home.

As explained in a previous article, social media’s facilities of representation have been helpful to businesses as a means to reach consumers, strengthen a brand, establish an identity. This importance is realised by many industries, and has led to the creation of many social-media-related jobs; the words ‘marketing’, ‘communications’ ‘coordinator’ often used to describe the position.

Another implication of digital media on work lies in the notion of telework.

Where work, in the past, was an environment associated with a place ‘other’ than home. A place which often required commute. Which accommodated work-specific facilities of offices, computers, furniture and internet, and followed pre-arranged and agreed-upon hours…Until Telework.

Since the internet’s magic which lets us transport documents, information, powerpoints, on computers, we are now no longer contained and limited to the office. Work can potentially be everywhere.

The question of what constitute works extends to the ‘perpetual’ maintenance of emails. As research by Gregg and Mel reveal, most employees admit to using home time to check emails without necessarily considering it a part of ‘real work’ (Gregg, Mel, 2012. p47). But this question moves to the bigger consideration of what’s at play here; the habituated email-checking of employees also seen as a consequence of the ‘emotional labour’ and unpredictability involved in work; a psychological strategy to be in control and reduce anxiety, to ‘allow workers to feel “mentally prepared” before arriving at the office for a normal day’ (Gregg, Mel, 2012. p48).

The implication of blurring boundaries between work and home may depend on what that specific work means to the individual, and how content, complete, meaningful they feel at work or at home. It may also involve a consideration of what home is, whether its meaning and significance extend to ‘who they are’ beyond just paying the bills.

Perhaps ‘home’ is a place more sacred when there are others; a family, involved. As can be seen in research which found employee, Richard, ‘had to learn to express sensitivity to others’ needs in the home, to appreciate that his work was becoming part of the family’s intimate space’ (Gregg, Mel, 2012. p45).

What are considered elements of a healthy work environment, from its ambient lighting, freedom to move around, to take breaks, meditate, have tea, are described by employee interviewees as ‘luxuries that the workplace hardly condones’ (Gregg, Mel, 2012. p40). And while it may be assumed that less work will be done at home because of potential distractions and greater flexibility, research reveals that in reality, ‘home’ work, while efficient, is also repeatedly associated with ‘hidden labors’ involved in slow internet connections, or disparities between the software used in home-machines and that which is accepted by work-machines.

Digitalization of the work ecology, and its extension of the workplace and workspace into homes, has also created the notion of ‘invisible’ work, and the question that ‘if you can’t be seen working then are you working at all?’ and I found it interesting to discover that in one interviewee’s example, we see how email was used to compensate for not being there, replying quickly to emails as ‘a barometer of professionalism’(Gregg, Mel, 2012), and it poses the question of why work has to be visible at all- one that links to elements of trust, power-heirarchies and a business ‘getting their money’s worth’ from employees, rather than one that looks directly at the efficiency of the environment. As Gregg and Mel explain, ‘working from home can suit certain personalities better than others’ (Gregg, Mel, 2012. p46), and ultimately, it may not be about where you work, but rather, how you work. What environment best inspires an efficient, productive, creative output, whether the nature of the work required allows it, whether the home-environment accommodates it, depends on the individual, and the digitalisation of the workspace, as well as the new flexibilities offered through telework, has enabled the individual to better establish a work-routine specific to their potential and personality.

References:

Gregg, Mel (2012) Working from Home: The Connectivity Imperative