According to the Border Theory, as we move from one social role into another (for instance, from being an employee into being a member of a family), we cross certain “borders”. Each space (i.e. office or home) has its own border keepers, who make sure that you don’t blend the two. At work, your boss or your colleagues act as border keepers. When they go home, they send you a signal that your work is over and you can move to a different space. At home, your spouse or kids act as border keepers, when they become upset every time you are checking your phone.
Keeping healthy borders is important for anyone, because we tend to recharge at home, and spend energy at work (provided that your home is a safe and supportive environment). However, technology blurred the borders and strongly increased the length of the working day.
According to scientists, there are three main types of boundaries between the spaces – physical (walls of your home or office, or if you work from home, an open or a closed door); temporal (specific working time) and psychological (whether you are thinking about you work-related issues even if you aren’t working anymore). Technology has blurred the boundaries of all three of them. How do you know that it’s time to stop working? Who sends you the signal if you are working from home, or if you have a mobile phone with corporate emails that keep arriving? You may still receive calls at 10pm these days, especially if you work with global markets. Many people feel they must control their messages 24/7, otherwise they might end up losing work (although only in a very few industries like specific parts of financial industry this might apply). With no boundaries in place, we end up having very little to restore ourselves and so can get increasingly stressed and tired. There are three key types of people that have different attitudes to borders. Border expanders simply don’t see a border – they keep going no matter what. They can often do that for the need of career advancement, predominantly it’s people in client-facing roles, who frequently blur the border between work and life. It’s the investment banker who goes to a date and apologies because he needs to go back to work. It’s a busy lawyer who ignores her kids and goes to the office on Sunday because she needs to address some questions the client raised at 11pm the previous night. There’s no such thing as no-working time, work can come in any minute and it needs to be addressed. Border adapters evaluate whether the thing is urgent or not. The change their scenario depending on the screening result. They will answer the phone depending on who’s calling. They will check their emails and see which require an urgent answer, and will answer those, and ignore the rest. And finally, border enforcers are people who have established for themselves really rigid boundaries. When they’ve left the office – this is it, they aren’t taking calls. When they are out of the office hours, you can’t to get hold of them. They are likely to have had burn-outs before and learned the hard way. Quite a few of them changed their jobs once or several times, looking for a company culture that allows them not to be on the digital leash all the time. Which type are you? How do you manage your digital routine? In the next posts, we will talk about digital detox strategy for each of these types.