Personal Activities at Work

February 15, 2011

Business

I have read a few articles recently that talk about how to monitor personal activities at the workplace. This includes personal email, phone calls, and clearly within the last several years social networking. Facebook and Twitter in particular are 2 sites that employees have a difficult time staying away from during work hours. A few years ago instant messenger application use was getting everyone’s attention and, since, most companies have incorporated enterprise versions to use as a productivity tool for their companies. If you can’t beat them join then I guess.

A lot has been written on the lost productivity and sheer hours of work squandered as people use the time they are being paid to do company work doing personal stuff. I remember (imagine this) when most of these technologies weren’t around. There were still employees supposedly “getting over” on their employer they just did it differently than today. It was reading the paper or making a lot of personal phone calls on the company phone but, no matter what, it did occur.

So the dilemma still exists…

I also remember a lot of these employees “getting over” would take the time to check in at home, talk to the kids about the event they missed at school or the track meet they were going to be out of town on or just get caught up with their spouse.  In a lot of cases these were the same people that worked late, traveled for business outside of business hours and were always there for a fellow employee regardless of the time. These were the same employees that would come to work on a Monday after the weekend with a great idea on how to solve a nagging problem or how to deal with a tough competitor.

My belief is that the real issue is not Facebook, Twitter, or the hours spent on any number of apps on an iPhone. Believe me tomorrow it will be some other technology.

Underneath it all it is the commitment or lack thereof of the individual and the company.

It is the balance of time and energy spent outside the workplace working on company business against the time spent during work hours working on personal stuff. Work is no longer a “Place” and work hours are not “9 to 5 Monday through Friday”.  Work requires more and more availability after work hours, before the normal start time and on weekends. More importantly great companies require associates who are engaged 24 – 7. The dynamic requirements to remain competitive require a workforce that has no real time boundaries.

We need to create stimulating work environments that are open and rely on corporate oversight and employee judgment.  Environments that rely on human behavior doing the right thing most of the time in the right business construct. Selfishly capitalizing on the fact that engaged and accountable employees will not stop working at 5PM but continue to think, innovate and move the business forward. Employees that don’t define a workweek by the number of hours worked but rather but the results of what they do directly and indirectly. Employees that are mature and capable of integrating their personal lives at work and able to deal with working away from the office or outside work hours.This environment requires an openness, confidence, and a degree of latitude to allow employees to stay connected to their personal lives while at work.

One could argue that this philosophy only works for management or the class of employees paid for results and not for the “individual contributors” (I really hate that term) typically paid for effort. I struggled with this for a while but I will go out on a ledge here and say I don’t think it matters. I don’t think hourly employees view their job or impact differently. Their desires to be recognized, make a difference and be a productive member of a bigger team are still there. They have a personal life as well as a business one that, contrary to what some might think, doesn’t stop and start around work hours.

Defining, managing, and policing this activity requires a new set of standards and a new way of thinking about work. It also requires a level of trust and accountability for results that is uncommon in today’s average company. In the end the businesses that get this and deploy a management system that capitalizes on this will win.

About Frank Picarello

Frank is a well-respected leader in providing technology services to small and medium-sized businesses. He is currently COO for TeamLogic IT, Chairperson for CompTIA's Small Business Owner's Group, and a member of CompTIA's Unified Communication Committee.

View all posts by Frank Picarello

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