Beyond Juggling: Techflexing- Using Technology As Your Servant, Not Your Master

by Kurt Sandholtz, Brooklyn Derr, Kathy Buckner, Dawn Carlson

In the final part of this series, learn how you can use technology to gain control and balance in your life.

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Brady Doman’s wife used to brace herself when he pulled into the driveway after work. He would walk in expressionless and barely acknowledge the kids. An hour later, Brady was focused on work again, his head bent over papers from the office. “I never stopped, never took a break,” said Brady of the time he oversaw 15,000 employees at a large regional bank in Ohio.

When Brady’s heart attack hit, he was on an airplane flight just passing over Albuquerque. He would have died if he hadn’t been over a major city at the time. And he would still be a walking zombie if he hadn’t begun to rethink his work and his life. He and his wife moved to Sedona, Arizona, with Brady taking his work with him. His day starts at 6 a.m., which is 9 a.m. at the home office in Ohio. He can put in two or three hours before breakfast. His evening commute now involves shutting down the computer and closing the office door.



Brady’s home office is set up with a typical array of electronic equipment: a telephone, fax machine, and computer with Internet access. He uses these tools not just to work with greater speed and ease, but to create the lifestyle that he craves. He’s part of a growing number of workers we call “techflexers”—workers who use technology to build flexibility into their work and non-work lives, leading to a more satisfying balance between the two.

Using technology to get work done in unusual places and at odd times is a pervasive and booming trend. Being able to work anytime, anywhere may sound alarming to balance seekers. Doesn’t the lure of constant connection to our jobs seduce us even further from a balanced life?

It can. And for many ardent “technophiles,” it does. But a growing number of workers now place their work time and space where, and only where, they want it. In a 1999 survey by Fast Company magazine, 83% of respondents said that using the Internet and other technology was part of their strategy for work-life balance.

The most obvious form of techflexing is telecommuting, although techflexers don’t just do the same job, during the same hours, from home. They may work entirely from home, or they may spend just one or two afternoons a week working from home. Others techflex in ways that enhance their non-work lives, using pagers, cell phones, instant messaging, or even Web cams to stay connected with family and friends while at work. Technology can also be used to simplify personal lives—from shopping online to using the Internet to stay in touch with loved ones.

Full-time techflexing is obviously not for everyone. Certain jobs, such as law enforcement or surgery, simply can’t be done from home. If your job is one of them, you should find other options or consider changing careers. And even if your job could be done from your kitchen table without anyone at work noticing, you still have to make the case that a more flexible arrangement won’t hurt your performance. “Convincing my company to let me work three time zones away wasn’t easy,” says Brady, “but I had enough experience and credibility that offering me some flexibility was better than losing me altogether.”

If you choose to telecommute, you also need to be honest about your ability to build relationships and stay interpersonally connected with your manager, peers, and customers, whom you may rarely see face to face. In some companies, this may lead to fewer promotion opportunities or decreased earning power. Rebecca Simpson, a purchasing agent for a global electronics company, works from her Dallas home. Her boss and fellow team members work at the company’s corporate headquarters in Europe. “I have enormous phone bills and traveled a lot early on so that I could get to know my manager, my customers, and the various vendors.” Although Rebecca is outgoing enough to build relationships by phone, she can also be satisfied without chatting at the proverbial water cooler. The most successful techflexers we identified are self-starters with a high desire or tolerance for solitude.

Techflexing also requires firm boundaries. If you think you can strap on a headset and hold client teleconferences while you do the laundry or weed the garden, think again. And when you work from home, it takes discipline to refuse to take work-related calls while you walk the dog or play with the kids.

Techflexing obviously requires a reasonable level of technological proficiency. A lot of time is wasted if you’re over-reliant on some faraway help desk for constant support. But even if you aren’t always the first one on the block to have every new electronic gizmo, you probably know enough to use technology as a tool. If you are Web savvy and can operate voice mail independently, you have the basics down. And even if you don’t want to telecommute full time, you can buy a little more balance by using your commuting time and a hands-free cell phone to catch up with family and friends, creating a website to stay in touch with loved ones, shopping online for gifts, groceries, and other items, and using Internet services to manage your banking, pay bills, and make travel arrangements.

 
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