Over the past 20 years, technology has moved from workplaces to become part of nearly every aspect of everyday life, from leisure to domestic activities, and of even more private spheres of life such as personal health management.
This change in the use of technology has also been reflected in CSCW research: for many years, CSCW has been including not only studies of work settings and practices, but also of other life domains. Some examples include studies focused on specific private life settings only, such as family communication – for example how photo displays are created and arranged in the home (Taylor et al., 2007), and how technology is involved in the management of a person’s end of life (Massimi et al., 2011) – as well as research on work practices blurring into private spaces, from work that is performed at non-work locations (e.g. work on the move), to professional practice that takes place in private domains (e.g. home care). CSCW has also extended its boundaries to focus on different leisure activities from tourism, to music sharing, to game playing (Barkhuus and Brown, 2007; McEwan et al., 2012).
Thus, as digital technologies pervade our lives, they become a constant presence in people’s everyday practices, rather than tools used merely in specific work situations (Hallnäs and Redström, 2002). This has been addressed by research looking at work/life balance and sustainable lifestyles (Sengers, 2011) and by studies looking at the socio-material practices around the use of phones in work settings, at how they redefine the boundaries of the workday, and at the expectations concerned with co-workers’ availability (Orlikowski, 2007).
There is currently an interesting debate on how to look at this blurring of practices, spheres of life and expectations: is it a problematic issue that should be addressed, or a new way of working and living that people are increasingly embracing? These are open questions in need of further research.
The field of Human Resources has looked at the notion of work-life balance, whereby work and life are seen as two things that should have some distinct separation and certain guidelines should help workers achieve it. This however can be seen as an artificial distinction (e.g. is it always a positive thing where the two are separated, rather than when they are mixed?). Furthermore, a balance between activities might not be achieved by segregating the two, but allowing for some flexibility where concepts of time and space at work are increasingly fluid. Some HR studies have also found that work-life balance does not equal to organizational performance by reducing conflict (Beauregard and Henry, 2009).
In HCI, there is an interest in work/life blurring with respect to the performance of HCI practitioners themselves (Peters et al., 2012), as well as a number of explorations on how work and life and their multiple interrelationships are managed. Technological changes make it increasingly difficult to keep work and life separated, to the point that attempting to achieve work-life balance might be counter-productive or more demanding than managing the blurring between them. Studies on the use of mobile phones, instant messaging and social media, have shown how the same communication channel is often used for work and private activities almost at the same time (Lindley et al., 2012). For example, for certain typologies of work, such as that of freelancers, mobile technology is used to support both aspects of their life and it is difficult to see a neat separation (Sadler et al., 2006) .
Mobile technology and mobile interaction have often been a frame for looking at these phenomena, linked to the idea of “mobilization” of practices as well as of infrastructure, and mobilities studies have been the frame for other examples of existing work on shifting patterns of home life and work life physically, temporally and organisationally (Ciolfi et al., 2012).
Overall, with regard to the blurring between work and private domains there is a focus on how people manage to do their work “despite” interruptions. However, the blurring might not necessarily be disruptive and/or avoidable: it might be something that people are willing to put effort on, or something that is accepted as part of everyday life and dealt with through different strategies.
Finally, another aspect to consider is when one person’s home is another person’s workplace, as in the case of referred homecare: not only may the role people attribute to a place such as the home change when shared among different roles and interests, but technologies that are there for the ‘worker’ can invade the private space of the inhabitant. However, technology can also provide different stakeholders with new possibilities to collaborate across organizational, social and temporal boundaries (Bossen et al., 2012). In cases such as telecare and video consultancy, it is not the mere technology that must be negotiated, but also the planning of, and availability to, an online meeting and other professional activities that must be woven into everyday life activities.
These occurrences happen increasingly in other domains as well, especially when looking at new forms of distributed work and of use of personal technologies and platforms in the workplace and vice versa.
Considering all the issues we have outlined thus far and their implications, the blurring of work and non-work activities is clearly a topic relating to much contemporary CSCW research, and we believe there is room to bring the study of these complex practices further into the field – as more work is needed on how people coordinate and interact when work tasks, personal tasks and leisure tasks blur into each other, and how to support/facilitate/mediate this through design.
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