I was recently chatting with Ross Daniels (Director of Solutions Marketing at Cisco Systems) about how today’s collaboration tools are changing the way we work and live and he shared an interesting story.
His division within Cisco holds an annual “bring your kids to work” day, but his schedule never allowed him to participate for one reason or another. This year, his calendar was free, and he was pretty excited to spend the day with his tech loving teenager. You can imagine his disappointment when he learned that the event wasn’t taking place this year. But an interesting thing happened when he was explaining to his son that he wouldn’t be able to show him what he does, and who he works with. They realized together that Ross works at home a good portion of the time, and with the wide array of communication tools at his disposal, his family has met his work team multiple times, face to face. They already know what he does because they have seen him working.
Every day can be bring your family to work day for those taking advantage today’s tools to enjoy a more free and flexible work/life balance. This led to a larger discussion of how dramatically the way we work and live has changed in very recent years.
For most of my life (and for at least a few generations before me) there was a very clear firewall between work and home for many people. Sure, you may share stories with your family, but you leave work at work. If the home office phone rings during family time, you let the machine pick it up. You certainly don’t bring a stack of work mail to the dinner table.
On the flip side, home stayed at home. You couldn’t easily mix in personal errands (bank, doctor visit, shoe shopping, etc.) throughout the workday. You had to try and do it all on the weekends, or take a personal day.
This dynamic started to break down due to mobile devices. At first we were reluctant to allow for this new level of flexible work/life balance and would turn off our work devices when at home. Even before the iPhone, many families had rules about mobile phones and blackberries during family time. And again, on the flip side, many organizations had rules about personal use of those devices at the office. Fortunately, we are growing past these self imposed limitations.
Nothing is more precious than time, and everyone was competing for it. But there is no reason to fear the breakdown of the work/life firewall. If anything, people are living more balanced lives as a result, allowing them to be more productive for work (not at work, but for work) and more happy at home. It is ok if Mom picks up her iPhone during dinner and reads a quick email. It just takes a second. We are used to our iPhones, we don’t just stare at them for the entire dinner anymore. That was so 2012. And likewise, if we are at work and take 2 min to go to Amazon and order shoes, the boss shouldn’t be concerned. Now that the shoes are off your mind you can be more focused on your work task. Besides, the boss knows that this kind of flexibility has you working after hours, whenever you feel productive or get inspiration.
Obviously, there is always an issue of getting out of balance. There has always been, and always will, be issues with people not being productive at work, or being available at home. But I believe most people will take advantage of the flexibility of being a blended work / life person to be both more productive and have more quality personal time. It is a bit strange to live a dual personality as we have traditionally done. We have two very separate lives between work and home. Different people, different clothes, different places, different activities. It is a bit schizophrenic. We manage, but it is stressful. And to keep one from destroying the other we set up firewalls of time allotments between the two.
So Ross and I don’t mind when a family member walks into the home office as we are working on a project. It isn’t “work time”. It might be fun to talk about the project together. And our families don’t mind if we jump on a video call with the work team on a Saturday. This all makes life so much easier, and far less stressful.
Of course, Ross was particularly pleased by the fact that he is doing this using Cisco products and services. I myself am always rotating between various offerings for testing purposes, but I have been spending some time with Cisco Spark as part of my growing interest and appreciation for persistent team messaging solutions. The details of how it matches up with the competitors goes beyond this article, but I can share a few top level thoughts.
Bottom line is that Spark, while new, already does the job. If you are looking to empower that new dynamic of synchronous/asynchronous project workflow, Spark is on my short list of persistent team messaging tools. It looks clean and attractive as I would expect due to Cisco’s recently heightened focus on design (it was always important, but now they are going for and winning design awards). Spark’s power feature, of course, is the integrated video chat (available on their mobile app, desktop app, and in the Firefox browser). Seamlessly escalating from chat to video is one of the holy grails of UC after all. I would also argue that they did a good job making it easy to invite new Spark users, as well as making it easy for those new users to get started. On the downside, I do have a small wish list for Spark. I am a guy who likes to keep it simple, but even I would like a few more real features, not just bells and whistles. To be fair though, it is a freshman offering and I have a feeling they are putting some decent cash into development so it could catch up quickly.
Obviously, there is more to the new work / life balance than IM solutions. Even those like Spark which include video are just one piece of the puzzle. We all have a wealth of tools at our disposal that we mix and match to make this new balance happen for us. For LDV, it will be fun to continue and cover this market as we all work together to make better sense of these new tools, watch them continue to develop, and see how the users and workflows adopt and evolve.