I am of an age where I grew up as the internet and technology grew up around me. I have been immersed in it since (almost) the beginning. However, I still consider myself more a visitor to the digital world. A visitor with a vague but definite footprint left behind. It is not due to a lack of knowledge that I have not fully immersed myself and allowed myself to become a digital resident. It is through active compartmentalisation of the various aspects of my life that I have held things at a reasonable arm’s length.
However, as the digital world is becoming ever more interconnected, I am taking strain to maintain the compartmentalisation. Nowhere is this truer than in the battle of segregating my private and professional life. I am constantly second guessing myself with what I share and where – How will this holiday photo make me look as a professional? What will my friends think if I share this company post on LinkedIn? It is entirely exhausting and all too often I just end up being a silent observer rather than posting! COVID and the hard lock down restrictions did not do me any favours either because I was thrown into a situation where my non-digital environment was limited to the converted single garage that I was renting at the time which forced me into an ever increasing digital world. The lines between private and professional life rapidly became blurred since my world revolved around one desk where I maintained a connection with the outside world through a laptop and an internet connection. I am certain I am not the only person who has had this experience and is still struggling to re-establish a new normal in the post-pandemic world where things have fundamentally changed forever.
My biggest challenge that I am yet to fully overcome is how to maintain some form of balance between my private and professional life. When the workday is done, how can I transition from my professional persona to my private one? This is a challenge since we are always connected, and Microsoft has made it remarkably challenging to “switch off” at the end of the day. I may close Outlook and Teams on my laptop, but it isn’t as easy to disable notifications on the phone. And not having these apps on the phone is not an option since it is so convenient to stay in contact during the day, especially when you are away from your laptop but must be contactable.
Unfortunately, this has created an environment where I feel like I am ALWAYS online, and this has been to my detriment. I shared in my PBL group one recent anecdote that my supervisor had no issues contacting me at 18h30 the other day to discuss work, when I had already transitioned away from work for the day. I made the rookie error of taking the call – that is on me. During the pandemic there were periods of time where I would be working from 09h00 – 02h00 almost consistently because what else was there to do? The wonders of work – there is always more that can be done!
To try counteracting this “always on” feeling I have tried to build some walls around the different aspects of my life. I have a set of tools at my disposal to perform in my professional environment (Teams, Outlook, OneDrive, LinkedIn, ORCiD, Google Scholar etc.) and another for my private life (WhatsApp, Signal, Facetime, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Netflix, BoardGameArena etc.) and I consciously keep them separate. This gives me a greater sense of control over my digital life. I take it to the extent that during the day I will message my colleague about work related issues on Teams, and a minute later send the same person a WhatsApp message about something private. The challenge with the approach is that it is reliant on those who interact with you to respect the boundaries of segregation. Is it fool proof? Definitely not. But for now, it is the best solution that I have tried that works for me.
P.S. To facilitate this separation of private and professional life (that I so actively seek) for my students, I try to lead by example. If they email after hours, I will only reply during business hours. With the shift to online learning, I adjusted and designed my courses and material such that it could be easily accessible and digestible during the time allocated on the timetable. I also put deadlines on Fridays so that the students could go into the weekend with a clear conscience. In other words, if the student worked effectively during the day and week, they would have the opportunity to take the absolutely necessary breaks in the evening and weekend.
2022-11-20 at 10:47 pm
I think this is a very interesting reflection and I can relate to it – a lot. It is not easy to keep the balance between private and professional, and it’s only natural that we have different roles in different settings. Yes, the pandemic was challenging in many ways, as our “digital personas” had to represent us as we could not interact the same way as before. Yet, I also feel I took a step back during that time. Instead of being more active on social media, I moved to more private channels (text messages, Messenger, WhatsApp) where “everyone” was not invited to my personal space. So I can very much relate to your post. The same goes for work. We want to be “available”, but with the option to be “unavailable”, right? There is a certain sense of freedom in being able to work whenever (and sometimes wherever) we want, and that flexibility can be much appreciated. (I will not point out what time it is right now, as I am writing this. Personal choice, though!) However, it’s important with balance. During the pandemic, I was often more exhausted after full days in Zoom than I previously was after a full teaching day at Campus. A study from Stanford University (https://news.stanford.edu/2021/02/23/four-causes-zoom-fatigue-solutions/) helped me understand some of that. I think it’s important for us all to understand why we make certain choices, and to understand the consequences of those choices, so that we can balance our lives. Sometimes, we just need to make ourselves “unavailable”. Other times, it’s simply about balance. For me, I’ve stopped scheduling full days in Zoom, because I now understand how my tiredness is connected to the very different congnitive load Zoom meetings entail. I didn’t understand it at first, during the pandemic, but through meta reflection and by reading research, I’ve come to understand it.
2022-12-09 at 5:02 pm
I think you mentioned and described a matter in which we are all involved the one or the other way. As well for me it was always very important to separate the private from the professional work life. With the pandemic this was not anymore that easy. I got used to work diffently. In a new job the separation was then almost cancelled as sometimes people called me on the weekend having technical problems and as well colleagues posted in the WhatsApp group. So you were somehow always connected with the work and I did not really enjoy it.
2023-01-06 at 3:50 pm
Thank you for sharing your experience. I believe that many people who have grown up with technology feel similarly. As you say it is certainly important to keep a a separation between the professional and the private life – and this is difficult. Sometimes it is also important to create technology free spaces, where you reduce the use of digital tools or do not use the phone or apps at all eg before going to sleep or during week-ends. This helps recover and others will learn that you are not always available. I also try to teach my students that I am not there 24/7 and that I will only answer e-mails during office hours or on certain days. It is difficult, but it is important for all to keep and learn how to keep boundaries.