Knowing when to shut down from work and live your life

Technology has made it easier for employees to work flexibly, but at what cost?

Improvements in technology mean that people do not to be office-based to carry out their work. Nicole Hill / The National
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Do you find yourself sending emails over dinner, or fielding calls from the boss while on holiday?

With the rise of technology, work and home life is merging. But for those managing family and a career, does working from home make maintaining a work-life balance easier or does it simply mean more work?

“Technology is a double-edged sword”, says Ravi Singh, the chief executive of Bluefin Consultancy, which he established to create smarter business models that promote a more engaged working culture.

“Integration of work and life through the medium of technology may be a misconception. On one hand you have access to information, and on the other you cannot escape accountability.”

The French government has concluded that its citizens’ work-life balance need to be protected. France’s new El Khomri law, which governs labour rights and conditions, dictates that employers put in place procedures to keep work from encroaching on employees’ personal time. According to Article 25 of the law, “the development of information and communication technologies, if badly managed or regulated, can have an impact on the health of workers. Among them, the burden of work and the informational overburden, the blurring of the borders between private life and professional life, are risks associated with the usage of digital technology”.

Some companies are paving the way in limiting digital overload. Daimler says employees are free to delete all the mes­sages they receive while on holiday, and Volkswagen shuts down email servers after hours.

Even digital companies realise technology needs to be restricted. Google’s Dublin office has a programme called “Google Goes Dark”, with employees leaving their devices at the front desk before they head home.

According to their gDNA study, an anonymous long-term survey of 4,000 Google employees, there are two main approaches to work-life balance: the segmentors, and the integrators. Segmentors, who made up 31 per cent, can draw a line between work stress and the rest of their lives, allowing them to not think about work when they’re at home. The remaining 69 per cent, the integrators, cannot. “For integrators, work looms constantly in the background,” says Laszlo Bock, Google’s head of people operations. “They not only find themselves checking email all evening, but pressing refresh on Gmail again and again to see if new work has come in.”

But others in the tech world see advantages for employees in bringing work home with them – especially for women. Meera Kaul was one of the first female tech entrepreneurs in the UAE, and now owns or has invested in 35 companies worldwide. Five years ago, she set up the non-profit Meera Kaul Foundation to empower women in the workplace. “Technology en­ables women to work from home and to work flexibility”, says Ms Kaul, who lives in Dubai.

According to research by Grant Thornton in 2015, although 76 per cent of women in the UAE have university degrees, only 34 per cent are working.

“The biggest threat that we have as women today is economic marginalisation,” says Ms Kaul. “About eight years into the job, when women have kids, they drop out and many of them never come back.

“In many parts of the world, the decision about your career is made by family, and then after you get married, it’s made by the husbands. Technology can narrow the gap and involve more women in the workforce, even when they’re not allowed to go out.”

Tamsin Anderson, from the UK, combines her job as editor of Yalla, a family guide to Abu Dhabi, with the responsibilities of being a mum-of-three. “The technology gives the illusion that I’m always there when someone calls or emails me, be it sat in a car park or even at home,” says Ms Anderson. “My location is irrelevant. I can arrange my day around the needs of my children, including school pickup, drop-offs and crucial sports matches.”

But Ms Anderson admits there is a rub. “Technology may be liberating, but it can also be very invasive. It’s absolutely vital to know when to close the lid down or turn the ringer off so that I can absolutely concentrate on my family’s needs outside of school hours. And truthfully, most people respect that. It is only our desire to know what is going on that gets in the way.”

PepsiCo is a company that has offered flexible working options for several years, according to PepsiCo Asia Middle East Africa’s chief human resources officer Umran Beba, who is based in Dubai.

“Women need it more, given the issues they face of mater­nity, childcare and parents’ care. What we see actually is that if you take the pressure out of the mind of a woman, they can be more productive. If in the morning you have to attend a play at your kid’s school, you can finish your work after that. Maybe it will be a little bit late. But in today’s world, you go home, have dinner with the kids, then when they sleep, you continue doing work from home.”

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