New forms of work such as home office, remote Work and virtual leadership are hotly discussed as trending topics, but in practice the beautiful new home office world often looks different: How do you deal with work without borders and permanent availability?

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The limits of labor productivity

Everyone talks about working freely, wherever and how you want. I confess: As great as it sounds and as much as I myself represent this lifestyle, I am skeptical whether it can all be implemented in exactly the same way. Because there are limits! An important aspect of this is that our brains cannot deal with unfinished business. Constant availability therefore disturbs concentration and productivity.

For ZEIT ONLINE I was interviewed on this topic some time ago. My thesis: You don't always have to be reachable, but can switch off your cell phone or laptop with a clear conscience.

Always available but not available?

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Now a reader pointed out an interesting aspect to me in his comments I aufmerksam: His Opinions according to there is a subtle difference between availability and accessibility. He wrote about it:

“A common one Problem on topic Time management is the lack of distinction between accessibility and availability. This is a very central question for one's own sovereignty over time. I can always be reached, either by eMail or on my AB. And if someone leaves a message that I consider very urgent, I'll get in touch too fast. But I'm not always available. Nobody can expect me to jump as soon as he whistles. I'm quite happy to decide for myself where on my priority list someone else's concern should go."

The brain wants to end things

In principle, I agreed with him in my answer - after all, we are actually free simply not to react. And yet this distinction is likely for many People be pure theory. Because the practice unfortunately looks like this: If we have a eMail we want to answer. When the phone rings, we want to answer it. But why is it like that?

One reason is that people tend to want to end things. A eMailthat we receive or a phone call is an unsolved problem that we want to bring to an end. A loose end in Head so to speak. And only when we're done with it can we switch off.

Getting Things Done - why we cannot switch off

If you want to delve deeper into this topic, you should read “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. Because David Allen gives us a good explanation for this Behavior:

Our Brain is not made to just leave things as they are. On the contrary, it really ensures that we constantly keep everything in our heads that we still have to do, what we have planned or what we should still respond to. Unfortunately, our thinking apparatus makes no distinctions as to what is important and what isn't. Blogger Johannes Kleske once summarized the resulting dilemma as follows:

"Having your subconscious constantly reminding you of a thousand things while trying to focus on one thing causes it Stress and disrupts the productivity that is so badly needed right now. You sit in front of a task and wonder if there isn't something more important to do right now."

Time sovereignty can only work to a limited extent

And that is exactly why it is so difficult for many people to simply not react when, for example, the next one eMail from Executive or customers trickles in - even if it's in the middle of the night. Because the brain is put on alert by such messages and only relaxes again when the matter is done.

The thesis of time sovereignty may sound logical, but will only work to a limited extent. Because you tend to want to react to get the job done and get it out of your head. Even if it's not particularly smart, for example because the boss learns that you are always available. If you want to sleep in peace, switch off your cell phone and laptop in the evening.

Pros and Cons free work?

The experts are divided on digital work: Some design the beautiful utopia of decentralized work thanks to modern Technology, away from the open-plan offices (I always ask myself how one should be able to work in a concentrated manner anyway) towards the “cosy” home office. The others show the problems that can arise: mental stress and the danger of becoming completely unproductive thanks to a lack of self-organization and constant interruptions.

I agree with that unreservedly: Exactly this freedom in choosing a workplace and in the allocation of time, which is necessary for me to be able to work creatively, is what I like about mine Job especially appreciate. But that's exactly why I see the problems with this form of work and I wonder whether it can actually become established.

Virtual leadership: trust is good, control is better!

First of all, I have the impression that many companies, especially in the creative sector, are increasingly hiring people again - because they have noticed that your Employees then better check can. Companies like Yahoo and IBM have also made a name for themselves in the last few years with home office return campaigns and even after the CoronaCrisis many employers reacted with panicked return campaigns instead of continuing the home office experiment.

It is often the case that when flexible working hours are Rede is, this usually means that the employees have to be flexible when the boss wants. This is exactly where the limits of decentralized work lie. And something that we somehow have to do even better in this one Society.

Home office as a career obstacle

The digital workers at home also have a decisive disadvantage: the lack of them Communication. Because apparently people are simply not made for digital communication, more and more people are going back to communicating personally instead of just in the Internet hold true.

Moreover, the immediate communication channels are in the Company much more direct, the on-site employee snaps faster on a landfill and receives information earlier than this per eMail or telephone would be possible. And local employees are simply much more present to your bosses.

Constant communication constraint

This condition makes many digital workers uneasy: One tries to communicate incessantly, either by eMail, telephone or in social networks – maybe also from the Anxiety from a certain loneliness.

And you quickly get the feeling that you have to be ready all the time. This restlessness can push one to the limits of psychological distress and leaves the boundaries between privacy and leisure blur.

Conclusion: break out of the hamster wheel of your own constraints

I don't want to paint anything black with it. On the contrary: In principle, this form of work is absolutely welcome as it frees up a lot of space for creative productivity. You just have to do it organizationally.

What can help here, for example, is to keep certain regularities in working hours, so that you set yourself and others limits of constant availability. Set spatial boundaries between work and private life. In addition, a stable social environment and a good professional one Network, that helps to reduce fears and loneliness. This can prevent you from finding yourself in the hamster wheel of your own constraints instead of in the free, creative home office.

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