Saturday, June 27, 2009

On the internet everyone knows when you're working (or not).

Is it just me or has the 24/7 aspect of email and voicemail multiplied your opportunities for miscommunication? Not miscommunication in the sense of misinformation. The information, in fact, is rather precise...all the way down to the minutes and seconds in the timestamp. Rather miscommunication because you can place a message while in your pajamas and people will think that you are still wearing a business suit, maybe even still wearing that same suit they saw you in earlier in the day while you were in your office. The problem is, it's 11:30PM.

Much has been written about how "on the internet nobody knows you're a dog," the idea that the internet creates confusion over proximity and privacy. Instead, I am thinking about a related problem, the asynchrony inherent in electronic messages. Perhaps you are one of those people who checks your voicemail at the start of the business day, or opens your web browser first thing in the morning. If so, you see the accumulated messages left overnight (emphasis on the word "overnight") and you wonder "when is it acceptable to call it quits for the day?"

In all of my adult life I have never worked at a place that works as hard as Coastal Community Foundation. You would think that everyone, every single employee, was working on commission, working to make payroll, or working to send money home...rather than just working to do good. It is like that at many nonprofits. Working for good is a huge motivator. There are no finish lines, no goal posts, no visible signs of progress yet employees and volunteers push themselves to their limits. It renews my faith when I see people pushing themselves along, without financial rewards, in community improvement projects. When paid employees do the same you have to wonder what's the magic about giving back?

So what does that have to do with dogs and the internet? When there are no limits on working from home; working 24/7 and leaving voicemails and emails with their telltale timestamps, I am sending Coastal Community Foundation employees the unintended message that it is okay, even expected, that everyone work beyond the 9 to 5 workday (our hours are actually 8:30AM to 6PM...that's how bad it is). Once "quitting time" no longer exists my daily ritual of thanking people and telling them to "go home and get some rest" sounds instead like a challenge to their commitment.

So in the spirit of full disclosure (and to counter the ah ha's of those who checked the timestamp on this blog entry) I am writing this while barefoot and enjoying the breeze on my porch. My wife is to my left and a cold drink is by my side. I am enjoying myself. Read this in the spirit it was written. Giving back to your community is a profound motivator that makes the effort of making a living seem like child's play. It does not, however, reduce the wear and tear on body and mind.

So now how do I protect the health of Coastal Community Foundation employees and get them to take a break? What tips do you have to help employees in the nonprofit sector get some work/life balance back into their lives? I've already got the message to reduce my off-hours messaging. What else do you suggest?


Charleston Waterkeeper said...

Great post! I've been struggling with the concept of "balance" over the past 10 months. It is not rare to be sitting at the Waterkeeper Office at 10pm, 12am, or even 2am!! I do understand that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy; however, do I dare suggest that it is possible to make it so that work becomes just as rewarding as play?

Keep up the great work over there at CCF. You guys have been such incredible support so far and I am happy to know that my fellow non-profiteers are as devoted to their passions as I am!


George Stevens said...


We are very lucky that our work is as rewarding as play. I find that there are a whole bunch of smart people in the nonprofit sector who have figured out that our work is deeply satifying...more satisfying than anything you can do with money.

Thanks for posting a comment.