Back in the old days - about 20 years ago - people were discouraged
from taking care of personal issues at work. At the same time, they
were expected to just do their jobs, without making decisions or
brainstorming better ways to do things.
Both of those mindsets are long gone, and for one overriding reason
- the Internet. By connecting us instantaneously with people, jobs,
and above all information, the Internet has erased the old
boundaries between work and home. This erasure, in turn, has the
potential to create a workplace with unprecedented vitality and
growth - if organizations take advantage of it.
Work meets life meets work
Email was a revelation to the corporate world. At first,
organizations extended the no-personal-phone-calls rule to
electronic correspondence as well. As email spread from business to
residential use, however, companies began to realize they could
connect with people anytime at home. At the same time, some people
saw emailing from home as a way to burnish their image and prove
their commitment. It was not long before organizations expected
people to be available at home. The wall between work and home had
By definition, so was the wall between home and work. People began
to balk at the personal-use prohibition. "If I'm going to do work
at home," they reasoned, "then I'm going to do home at work."
Progressive companies soon grasped the situation they had created.
Just as they now needed their people 24/7, so people had their own
needs 24/7. To move forward, organizations had to allow people to
be themselves - their work selves and their personal selves - at
every moment of the day. The wall between work and home was
As a result, the primary issue for people now is not work-life
balance, but how to integrate work and life. Over
the next few decades, they will strive to figure out how to blend
their work responsibilities and their personal lives into a
seamless whole. At the same time, organizations will need to learn
how to support this kind of integration, which will rapidly become
a prerequisite for hiring and retaining talent and organizational
Bring your (expanding) brain to work
So what are people bringing to the organization in the 24/7 world?
Far more than they ever have before, thanks again to the Internet.
By making terabytes of information available with the click of a
mouse or the tap of an iPad screen, the Internet has given a shot
in the arm to people's innate curiosity. Have a question? Google
it. The more answers we accumulate, the more questions arise, and
the more knowledge many people seek.
Because of this personal knowledge gathering, organizations now
find themselves with a much higher caliber of team member, and the
best organizations have begun to tap that potential. Rather than
being the hands and feet of the organization, people are now
encouraged to bring their brains to work. Rather than simply doing
their jobs, they are called on to make decisions, discover paths to
continuous improvement, and identify innovation changes that affect
the way they do their jobs.
With this new role comes new responsibility for people in the
workplace. To be valuable, employees must improve everything they
touch, whether it is a process, a team dynamic, a product, or a
marketing campaign. To continually bring this kind of value, people
must continually learn - at home and at work.
And when they do - when they create and support an environment
where people can think and bring all of their life into their work
- they astound themselves, their co-workers, and leaders. Perhaps
the machine operator on the shop floor turns out to be the mayor of
a neighboring town. What qualities of leadership or what skills in
conflict resolution might he bring to the table once we ask him to
bring all of his brain to work, not simply the part that knows how
to operate the machine?
The connection between work and "outside of work" is occurring on
every level. As people bring all of their lives to the workplace,
they bring all of their intelligence and learning too.
Organizations that make space for this will accelerate their
success to become leaders in their field and have the talent they
need to exceed expectations for years to come.