The “freedom” to work anywhere comes at a hidden cost


Mobile technology, the argument goes, liberates enterprise workers from the confines of the office, enabling them to be productive at home, on the road, or in the local coffee shop.

But can this “freedom” to work anywhere, and at any time, have a subtly pernicious impact on a mobile device owner’s private and professional life?

It sure can, according to a study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. Furthermore, a spouse’s mobile device use at home can hurt a person’s work performance (hence the study’s title, “Your Job Is Messing With Mine! The Impact of Mobile Device Use for Work During Family Time on the Spouse’s Work Life”).

Using a sample of 344 enterprise workers and their spouses, researchers “examined the role of mobile device (MD) use for work during family time in the job incumbent-spouse relationship and how this MD use crosses over to affect the spouse’s work life.”

You know where this is going, don’t you?

“We found that as job incumbents engage in MD use for work during family time, work-to-family conflict increases, as does the combined experience of relationship tension between job incumbents and spouses,” the study’s abstract reports. “This tension serves as a crossover mechanism, which then contributes to spouses’ experience of family-to-work conflict and, subsequently, family spills over to work outcomes for the spouse in the form of reduced job satisfaction and performance.”

Which really is a long-winded, researchy way of saying that tuning out your family (or personal life) to incessantly check your email, voicemail, collaboration app, etc., has a subtly corrosive effect on your ability to connect with people, which undermines your emotional well-being, thus making you less happy, less productive, and more likely to be replaced by a robot on the job, or maybe even at home (don’t think it can’t happen).

Ironically, I learned about this study in an email newsletter from the job site Ladders (h/t Monica Torres) that I downloaded on my phone during my son’s volleyball game this weekend. Not sure if they won or not. Anyway, the newsletter contained another article relevant to the dubious “freedom” of working anywhere, a luxury often seen as an invitation by overzealous bosses to overstep boundaries.

Ladders writer Jane Burnett collects advice from management experts about how employees and employers can handle off-hours work communication in a way that’s best for all involved. For employees, the best thing to do is understand expectations. For employers, the key is to realize that more, more, more can be less, less, less.

“A frantic environment that includes answering emails at all hours doesn’t make your staff more productive,” corporate trainer and author Maura Thomas writes in the Harvard Business Review. “It just makes them busy and distracted.”

And, ultimately, less happy and less productive.

As technology continues to erase the lines between work and home, personal and professional, and even human and robot (implanted chips, AI with emotional intelligence), finding the right balance for individuals and enterprises will become even more important, and more challenging.


  1. The freedom to work from anywhere does not mean you must work from anywhere. I appreciate working from home, but when I am over I am over. I turn off company computer and company mobile and I do not have to work from home when I consider I am home to rest :). True sometimes if you are home you work longer, but then I save 2 hours daily for commutting, so still there is a bargain. And if forced on emergency to work extra it is better to work from home than to work night or in weekend from the office.

    The freedom to work from anywhere is great. But you need to keep in mind discipline with your work-life balance.


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