Blurred Boundaries

The update of some internal work policies led to me reading one on Home use of equipment. I was surprised to see that the policy states:

Equipment purchased or leased made available to an individual member of staff for use at home should be used solely in connection with work. There should be no personal use of such equipment.

This policy was written in 2000 and in line for updating. I’m sure management would be very reluctant to enforce it. However it got me thinking about the blurred boundaries between work and play for remote workers and the sticky predicament it could put people in.

A few thoughts:

  • I can hardly swing a cat in the room I use for work, let alone squeeze another PC in it!!
  • Sometimes I log on to do something for home but get sidetracked into doing something for work.
  • Having two PCs set up for home and personal use would be time consuming to maintain – I use Skype for work and to contact my parents-in-law, I’d have to have it set up on both machines
  • I often use my own digital camera and mobile phone for work use, is this OK?
  • I use my own phone for work and often get calls out of hours and on my days off because I use my home number
  • I use many applications for work and home use (e.g. Facebook), should I be doing this? Should I have two user names?
  • What about work out of hours? What about my lunch break – am I allowed to do my online banking then?

I want to maintain work/home boundaries but it is tricky (the issue of when to switch off is something I’ve discussed before). The boundaries are blurred and the rise of ubiquitous computing is only going to make them more so. I am a responsible person who knows where to draw the line (for example if I want an external hard drive to store family photos on I buy it myself, work only pays for stuff I need for work).

I think organisational policies are going to have to be pragmatic and move with the times. No matter how hard we try there are points when…
work = play
play = work.

What do people think?


4 thoughts on “Blurred Boundaries

  1. Definitely a policy that needs updating! When you live a lot of your life, work and leisure, online, you can’t easily impose boundaries like that. It comes down to common sense and trust. If your employer knows you well and is confident that you can get your work done, then they don’t need to be checking whether you’re doing it between 9am and 5pm with a lunch hour and two 15-minute coffee breaks. With the time difference between Canada and the UK I often find I’m sending emails while making the kids’ packed lunches first thing in the morning – but the upside is that I get to work on my garden in the late afternoon without worrying that I’ll miss anything!

    There’s a good article at WebWorkerDaily about productivity without distractions which has some good suggestions – particularly the ‘Carrot and stick’ approach. Well, the carrot part, anyway. The Greasemonkey script to block time-wasting sites seems a bit extreme, but could be useful if you were really easily distracted, I suppose.

    Now I really must get back to that funding bid I’m supposed to be working on…

  2. Thanks Amanda, this a great article.

    Distractions like housework and your ‘comfy’ bed are often referred to when people talk about remote workers but the biggest distraction is the one that’s there wherever you are….the Internet!!

    I think I might have a go at downloading the grease monkey script and trying the cloak approach. Maybe I’ll write a blog post on it.

  3. The boundaries between work and play are increasingly blurred, and it’s high time employers recognised this. I think it may take a while though, as it seems like remote working is still only accepted and implemented by the few.

    Even when you are self-employed person, when you think you might escape this type of black and white thinking, it is always difficult to work out how equipment is used proportionally for work and play, which is essentially what the tax man asks us to do in our tax returns 🙂 I find it difficult to set an arbitrary proportion in cost terms for my work use of my BlackBerry, for example…Obviously it’s something that needs to be recorded, but it always feels like a bit like a school report!

  4. Good points Marieke. Clearly the current policies don’t make a whole lot of sense in terms of the way people work. I have heard of issues though when computer’s need fixing that folk have been given a hard time about software installed for personal use. I agree that especially for us remoters it really doesn’t make sense to try and enforce this stuff and hopefully our employers are savvy to this. Ade

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