How Mobile Is Blurring Work-Life Boundaries (Or Not)

Back in 1989, when I was a kid, a Bollywood movie romanticized letters sent through pigeons, especially when everyone else had moved to wired phones and dial-up Internet (on the other side of the world). Old-fashioned letter writing was shown as something with more feelings. The man would be away for work, and the woman would send him letters through the pigeon to come back home soon. Work ended the moment the man stepped into the car with the letter in his hand. There was no distraction except the occasional TV.

Returning to 2015, as I read my daily dose of Twitter and Facebook feed notifications with my morning cereal, the pigeon images make me smile. There’s nothing to prove that a Snapchat snap has any lesser feelings compared to a letter, no matter what I personally prefer. I can’t seem to function without the flurry of my mobile devices. I use my Gmail account for both work and emails from the husband who is currently sending me an iMessage from another country. I message back, saying I am reading about a tool that I am going to test at work today, while he promises to email me a great blog post link he saved for our dream beach holiday. I love my little morning routine. I don’t, however, think about how our mobile devices are blurring work-life boundaries.

That is, until this interesting question was raised recently by research from the Sage group. Digging through impact and perceptions of mobile device usage, they dived into the topic of work-life balance. What I found most interesting in the findings, is that professionals in the developed Western European markets of the U.K., France and Germany claim that mobile devices infringe into their personal space and increase the amount of work they potentially do for their employers. On the other hand, voices from the developing markets of Brazil, South Africa and Malaysia view mobiles as a positive addition to their work/life  balance. I can definitely add India to the developing mix too. What is creating such a difference in attitudes here? And what’s the real truth within the data?


How Mobile Is Blurring Work-Life Boundaries (Or Not)


Change in Media Consumption Patterns

There are a couple of key points, nothing you didn’t already know, I assume, but stating them for our reference: a) we are consuming online content more aggressively than ever before, b) we are sharing content – sometimes with or without reading it further, c) we are sharing content that makes us look good, or something that evokes our emotions (another post!), d) we are consuming significantly more content on our smartphones and tablets compared to traditional desktop computers, and e) we expect content will reach us, and brands work hard to do just that.

Further reading: Social Media is the most popular way of reading news in the U.K.

Here’s what research from CNBC says:

“This new wave of global research reveals that the Business Elite are consuming more business content over the weekend. Mobile is blurring the boundaries between work and leisure, as the consumption of business content over the weekend becomes commonplace. This change presents an opportunity for media owners and advertisers alike.”- Mike Jeanes, Director of Research, EMEA at CNBC 

Fear of Changing Media Consumption Patterns

In the recent past, plenty of psychological, and often very personal changes have been attributed to social and mobile technologies. While we are living in technology-infested worlds, sharing 500 million photos on Whatsapp per day, many of us continue to debate the true impact of these devices on our lives. We indulge in it but we also find it fashionable to say how mobiles are creating a nuisance in our lives. This is not the first time a new technology has been labeled as such.

Are We Really Working More Diligently…Umm with Mobiles?

I love how big data enables us to draw rich insights. So, before we complain about working more with mobiles, how is our work productivity impacted due to social media and related content (even on office computers)? To put this into context, here are some interesting insights.


Most sharing on social media networks happens *within* work hours. Loss in productivity is not a conservative, but a real argument. The Faculty of Psychology at the University of Bergen has recently conducted research that shows managers feel negative about personal use of social media at work. Although, top executives, are browsing social media for private purposes at work the most. They also shared some more interesting data about social media usage for private purposes including,

  • Age: Higher by younger employees
  • Gender: Higher for men
  • Education: Higher for people with higher education
  • Status: Higher for singles
  • Personality: Higher for extroverts and nervous people

Should we stop hiring these people, or ban social networks? Personally, I think before answering these questions, each professional needs to know a little about the real issues behind these: How interested are you in the job? Do you have a mentor who can help you if you are more interested in your neighbor’s cat as opposed to your brand new project? Do you feel more productive with small breaks in between a day? Is social media inspiring you, and in fact making you more creative at work? Does you job involve, or even require social media usage? Do you dislike your working hours and prefer a flexible work schedule?  And so on…

The Real Issue Behind Taking Work Home On Mobiles

A couple of things hit me right up front:

  • Define your productivity-zone: It is bound to be different for everyone depending on their roles, industries and individual preferences. When are you most productive at work?
  • Define work: CNBC’s research revealed that “Business Elite are consuming more business content over the weekend”. And my question immediately was: what is business content? Does reading about how to increase my sales leads via social media constitute as work if that’s bothering me between Monday to Friday? Does reading a book on changing face of Ferrari mean work if it’s a topic I am working on? Or are emails the big draw? What if the email is just a link on the new Ferrari strategy that my boss shared?

Now that you have mentally answered these questions for yourself. And assuming mobiles are keeping you awake at night, and your boss expects you to rework the pivot table on the spreadsheet he sent you on a Friday evening, take a deep breath. The real issue is not the mobile. It’s a tool. The real issue is your inability to say no. Drawing boundaries between work and life (if you so wish) is a personal preference. The ghost of the mobile will not scare anyone in their dreams, unless they want it to. People don’t get more lonely on Facebook, but more lonely people perhaps spend more time on Facebook.

Why Do Employees In Developing Markets Feel More Positive About Mobiles?

Maybe because they are not included in the ‘Business Elite’ surveys? Editorialism aside, many markets in the developing world leapfrogged to mobile technology. This means that in some cases there was a shift from wired phones directly to smartphones, skipping wired Internet access completely. Many business professionals at different levels use their mobiles perpetually for work and may not be highly desktop savvy. Internet connectivity is often not available easily and at decent speeds in all the places where business professionals need to travel or work. However, mobile Internet often comes to rescue there. And thus is associated with positive affirmations in a business context too.

For the non-elites in developing markets, there are plenty of case studies which show that for small business owners, who were previously dependent on slow, dial-up desktop Internet speeds or physical travel, the mobile has made business communication far more smooth and efficient. What’s not to love? Nokia ran a campaign in India in the early 2000s stating that the mobile was now a ‘permanent address.’ For many in the developing world, a mobile phone was the first real ‘personal’ electronic device (as opposed to a shared music system and TV) and also the number was effectively their own address.

For those professionals whose exposure to devices and electronics was already high, mobiles still continue to function as a always-on personal connectivity device. Many people you may meet in the subways may have two mobile SIMs or a dual-SIM mobile one for business and one that gets calls from the mother. Mobiles have made such things possible and easy. It’s easy to talk and communicate when you want to, instead of standing in queues outside phone booths and wait for off-peak hours.

The other, less spoken about experience is this, in large developing countries with no big economic depressions and the need to grow, professionals in the business context are ambitious and come with a strong positive energy. The markets are at a different S-curve and people perhaps at different levels in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The competition is high. Often you are just a number that can be replaced. To differentiate yourself, it is important to be there. And people are interested in sharing opinions on business, on questions and want to be seen. Social and mobile is used as an expression media across age groups. First and foremost it addresses the need to be seen, no longer as a statistic but as someone with their own ideas and opinions. Maybe in a few years, it will come a full circle when the developing world will see their work-life balance differently too. Or maybe it will be the opposite.

Digital Natives Will Converge Experiences Across Markets

Germany is largely very privacy-focused and people do not go out of their way to share personal photographs on social media accounts of their offices. I have had people complaining that they don’t want to be associated/seen publicly with a brand. Yesterday, a couple of new women in my office in their early 20s took a photo, and immediately suggested we share it on Facebook and other media channels from their office department. An occurrence that didn’t sound vastly different from what happens every day in India or China.

Digital natives whose lives are already far more digitally immersed will not see mobiles as the blurring of set boundaries, but as yet another digital experience. In the world of constant selfiesy, what work-life balance are we talking about anyway?

Do you think the mobile is blurring your work-life boundaries? Please share your experiences with me!

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About the author:

Upasna works as a Digital Storytelling Consultant with Unified Inbox. She is the Co-Founder of Content Marketing & Branding Firm, Brandanew. Her previous experiences include: Rocket Internet, Experteer and McKinsey & Co. She has been a blogger since 2003 and currently lives in Ludwigsburg, Germany.

By | 2017-05-29T15:03:49+00:00 February 19th, 2015|Categories: Telecoms|Tags: , , , |0 Comments