Managing Boundaries Between Work and Home
June 18, 2014

Pros And Cons Of Using Mobile Technology To Manage Boundaries Between Work and Home

Alan McStravick for - Your Universe Online

As mobile technology and the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) trend continue to advance, many professionals find the convenience of remaining connected to work in their off time an invaluable tool. This constant connection allows for their work life to be monitored while they are engaged in activities at locations other than where work is traditionally done.

A new study, conducted by researchers from the Universities of Cincinnati (UC) and Dallas (UD), finds that the benefits and detractors of this relatively new phenomenon can balance each other out making for the managing of boundaries between work responsibilities and home life at once both friend and enemy.

The study, presented earlier this week at the Work and Family Researchers Network Conference in New York City, was led by Stacie Furst-Holloway, UC associate professor of psychology. Co-authors of the study were Elaine Hollensbe, associate professor of management; Suzanne Masterson, associate professor of management; Sung Doo Kim, doctoral student in management; and Danielle Bologna, doctoral student in psychology, all of UC. Representing UD was Therese Sprinkle, assistant professor of management.

The research team is engaged in ongoing research, titled “Strategic Use of Mobile Technology to Manage the Work-Family Boundary.” This continuing study has found full-time professionals are quite able to employ multiple strategies when using modern technologies to manage their work-home boundaries.

One such strategy, 'Collocation', refers to an individual’s ability to physically be present in one domain while their thoughts and focus are split between both work and home. Examples of collocation would be sorting and washing laundry while also performing a work related project or taking the time to respond to a work-related e-mail while attending a child's sporting event.

Another of the strategies the team mentions is 'Distancing'. This occurs when an individual makes the specific effort to turn off the technology or changes the setting in order to make it clear that they are unavailable for one domain while they are actively engaged in the other.

The third strategy they make mention of is 'Crossing'. When an individual employs the crossing strategy, they are using the available technologies to aid in moving from one domain to the other. One is seen to be crossing if they use mobile communications technology to bridge between work and home domains by accessing work e-mails via laptop or smartphone as the end of their workday nears. In so doing, they are able to respond to requests and complete tasks before they ultimately become fully engaged in their home domain.

Furst-Holloway commented on these ideas stating, “These strategies were often perceived as a help in navigating work-home boundaries. For instance, with collocation, an employee might be in the same physical space as a spouse, being present when needed for the personal relationship, but alternating that with work completion.” She continued, “It allows for greater perceived control of work flow and information required to be better prepared upon returning to the office.”

She also noted how “crossing” presented its own benefit by being similarly helpful, providing a bridge for smooth travel between work and home. Additionally, crossing ultimately made the passage from one domain to the other easier to accomplish.

Unfortunately, using technology to help one be in two places at once can also be a huge hindrance in their being present in either one due to the addictive quality of technology. Anyone who has jumped to their phones notification chime like one of Pavlov's dogs recognizes this scenario.

Throughout the conduct of this first part of their study the team was able to arrive at their findings thanks to an in-depth, qualitative interview process that included 33 working professionals. Just over 50 percent of their study group included full-time employees of a Cincinnati regional healthcare facility. The remainder were full-time employees of several different firms who were also enrolled in a part-time MBA program at UC. Each interview focused on the person’s relative use of technology as well as their perceptions, preferences and experiences in regard to work-home boundaries.

Having now presented their initial findings, the team says their next step will broaden their subject group from the initial 33 individuals to a survey sample of approximately 500 full-time employees. Their continued research will inquire about their self-perceived outcomes of using the above strategies, the frequency with which they personally employ one or all of the strategies in their own experience, the impact those strategies have on both their work and home life, and how others, such as their supervisors, coworkers and significant others perceive their use of the different mobile communications technologies.