Before you respond to this question with “never,” hear me out. Let me describe a scenario that occurred recently. (Note: I am only going to discuss this from an organization’s perspective. I can’t be held accountable for the look of disgust other parents may give you or the lecture you will surely receive from your spouse).
It is late in the afternoon and I am on a weekly project team conference call. During the usual roll call at the beginning of the meeting I hear the sound of people cheering and whistles blowing when one the participants, John, introduces himself. It’s obvious that John is not sitting at a desk staring at a monitor.
“This is John,” he starts. “I’m at my son’s soccer game. I’m going to put myself on mute so you can’t hear the background noise. I’ll just listen in and jump in if you need anything from me.”
As he started to speak, a few of thoughts came to mind. First, the blurry line between personal and work life has almost faded away. It’s hard to keep the two separate. Work has become mobile, following us wherever we go and personal devices and applications, such as social media, permeate the workplace. Second, work is global, or at least it is not confined to one time zone. It’s often hard to schedule a meeting that is convenient for everyone. Someone usually participates before or after “normal” work hours (if there is such a thing nowadays).
So what happens when we try to balance personal and work commitments? I would argue that you still should separate the two whenever possible. Don’t be afraid to put your family first. Put away the smart phone or tablet and make a break from work for a while. However, I also realize that there may be times when that is not possible. For those rare circumstances, here is my advice:
- Be honest. I like how John was up front. He didn’t try to pretend he was anywhere else. If you are on the soccer field or in your car traveling, let people know. John was really telling everyone, “My kid’s soccer game is more important than this meeting, but I’m here anyway in case you need me.” And that’s fine. At least he set the expectation for his participation during the next 60 minutes.
- Only do it when you are not a key contributor. John wasn’t going to lead the meeting, nor was he going to provide a lot of input. He was listening in for the information and would provide a comment or two if needed. He would spend the majority of the conversation on mute even if he was in an office, so the fact that he was somewhere else should not be a distraction. If he were in charge of the meeting or a bigger player he would have to choose to either fully participate in the meeting or reschedule.
- Don’t do it often. Again, I won’t address the personal angle of this and tell you how unfair this to your family or others if you constantly try to multitask in this way. From an organizational perspective, you shouldn’t try this tactic too often. You need to manage your virtual presence. Constantly being distracted and balancing personal obligations with work commitments will eventually catch up with you. You may become the negative stereotype of teleworkers that people joke about.
What are your thoughts? I promise to respond when I am behind my laptop and not simultaneously watching television while rewiring my home office.