For many people, the internet and the smartphone have erased the division between work and private life. It’s not uncommon for people to look at their phone every twenty minutes or so to check for new emails, even when they’re off the clock. How has the surge in online communication affected work-life balance and workforce expectations? Four super-busy people in high positions reveal their point of view.   

Tawanda Mahere, director of emerging markets at Jide Technology: “I do not mind sending work emails at night. In fact, I appreciate the flexibility that technology gives me. I live and work in China, and I flew to my home country Zimbabwe last year and surprised my mother for her 60th birthday. I was also able to visit my little sister for her graduation. I could only do that because I could carry my work with me. It enhances my life to be able to do work wherever I go. The work-life dichotomy has definitely been distorted in some industries and that is great. The amount of hours spent in the office is much less relevant now than it was thirty years ago, because the work that we do, does not have to be done at the office. I also think that it’s great to bring your family to work. Just before this symposium [the 47th St. Gallen Symposium, during which this interview was conducted], I met with a client. In the course of that meeting – a very serious meeting – my client answered a call from his son. They actually video chatted for a few minutes. I admired that. That is the kind of work-life balance model that works for me, too. It goes both ways: technology lets you bring your emails to your home, but also your family and friends to your work.

“I appreciate the flexibility that technology gives me.”

Katerina Lengold, vice president of business development at Astro Digital: “Until a couple of years ago, I had no such thing as work-life balance: I was flying back and forth all the time. Now, there are actually hours booked in my calendar for spending time with my loved ones, playing with my dog and a nice dinner. If somebody is trying to schedule a call in that time, my calendar will say I  am busy. I spend that time entirely offline. When I started doing that, I became much happier. Balance comes from equal priorities, and equal priorities means scheduling time for things that matter. I think everybody deserves offline time without work interruptions. I will not bug a person on their vacation with requests. If I need something from them, I usually send a note. I try not to call, because that is very disruptive. Availability 24/7 is a dangerous commitment. It limits your capacity to enjoy other things in life. At the end of the day, we work to be happy, not just to maximize our efficiency, and if we forget about the things that make us happy, we are not doing a good job at living our lives to the fullest.

“There are hours booked in my calendar for spending time with my loved ones.”

Susanne RuoffSwiss Post CEO: “I always spend at least one hour per day checking my phone, even on vacation. As a CEO, you need to stay connected. But you should not make Saturday morning calls to your employees over nothing. You need to have a basic level of respect. I don’t expect my employees to answer calls during night time. On the weekends, I expect nothing. It is also important to clarify your expectations and rules for online communication. That is an extra task bosses have today. It is wrong to expect employees to respond to everything within five minutes. When I worked at IBM Switzerland, we made a change from closed office to open office and we had the rule of softly knocking on somebody’s table as a way of asking for permission to disturb them. We did that in the ‘90s, but the principle is still valid today: you cannot disturb anybody at any time.

“It is important to clarify your expectations and rules for online communication.”

Dan Wagner, CEO of Rezolve: “Why would you ever be offline? Why would you need it?Being online is a way to communicate. I think that it very much depends on the job, but in the technology environment, it’s a ridiculous idea to be completely offline for hours. I am online for almost every minute of every hour of my day. Of course, I am not interacting with my devices all the time, but I am online and available for my work. In the technology service business, that is normal. You need to be available, especially if you have a job that requires some level of responsibility. For example, if there is a technical issue that is preventing people from having access to the service we offer, I would be on it every five seconds and chase the person that I need down, and I would be furious with them if I do not get a response within a reasonable period. Some might have a view that work-life balance means that the division between work time and spare hours should be protected, but I have a different view. I think that we are lucky. We are privileged. There are millions of people who have to work in far worse conditions. Worrying about getting a call on the weekend to disturb a bike ride is part of our success.

These interviews were conducted during the 47th edition of the St. Gallen Symposium for the 2017 Symposium Magazine. The original, slightly shorter, version of this article was published on www.symposium.org/magazine. Illustration by Katie Chappell.

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