Knowledge Work Defies Traditional Boundaries

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knowledge workerIndustrial Age work, which happened largely in factories and on assembly lines, is less prevalent and we’re now seeing a shift to a different type of work, commonly referred to as “knowledge work.”

Knowledge work is the product of human brains which do not think in assembly lines nor stay confined to a factory workspace. Within office buildings, cubicles and open floor plans exemplify modern space planning. Even more, technological advancements allow knowledge workers to contribute from anywhere they are (and at any time of day or night). With this shift to knowledge work, the metaphorical walls between work time and personal time—and between work spaces and personal spaces—are deteriorating.

Individuals and their companies are struggling to keep up with this shift. This new work environment is what I call ‘Work Without Walls’.

Questions Facing Companies Today

How does one measure performance when work product is largely intangible, and a global work force means “office hours” are around-the-clock?

What happens to corporate culture when people work remotely or feel overwhelmed with the constant barrage of information and workflow brought by new technology?

In the absence of literal machinery and assembly operations, how can companies optimize their most important resource—the brainpower of their knowledge workers?

Leaders and executives are not immune to these challenges even while they are charged with navigating them for their company. In this new environment, employee engagement, dynamic marketplace conversations, the need to be more productive in less time and, potentially, with less resources can be daunting, to say the least.

“Machine-like” metrics of constant availability, long work hours, multi-tasking and little-to-no downtime actually undermine knowledge worker productivity. They lead to exhaustion and discontent which – ultimately – lead to lower profit margins.

In the world of work without walls, “work-life balance” not only exists but is critical. Productivity should be measured by the progress a knowledge worker make on his or her significant results in any given time frame. This is all dependent upon the worker’s energy levels, happiness, and ability to focus their attention. Therefore, the only real boundary for success in today’s knowledge economy is attention management.

What do you consider work-life balance – and how do you achieve it? Please share below.

For advice for leaders on creating a corporate culture that supports this effort, check out my new book Work Without Walls: An Executive’s Guide to Attention Management, Productivity, and the Future of Work, or download a free chapter in the box on the right.

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