Work has become more independent of time and space as people check work-related emails at night and in the morning, according to findings from a study into ‘New Media and Work’ at Alpen-Adria University in Austria.
An online survey carried out by the university involving 445 participants revealed that 30 per cent of respondents check work-related emails before going to bed at night and also when waking up in the morning.
Furthermore, only 5 per cent of respondents consider themselves unavailable to their companies or their customers during their time off work, the survey found.
The survey forms part of a research project into the "mediatisation of work" undertaken by Dr Caroline Roth-Ebner at the Department of Media and Communications Science in Klagenfurt.
Roth-Ebner is looking into how new media and technologies are transforming the working environment, by examining working contexts that are dominated by ICT. In addition to the online survey, Roth-Ebner carried out 20 qualitative interviews with “digicom-workers”.
“These are people who deal with and communicate intensively with digital media in their work environment,” Roth-Ebner said. Examples of digicom workers are managers, software designers, communication consultants, entrepreneurs or scientists.
The research pointed to three main socio-cultural implications of using ICT for work - Acceleration, Flexibility and Subjectification.
The study found that ICT has enabled increased efficiency, acceleration, as digicom workers increase their working speed and their amount of communication. More and more is done in less time, and sometimes even in a multitasking way.
Roth-Ebner gives the example of a university professor she interviewed that often communicates with his team via video conference although his team members are located two doors down from his office.
“When he tries to coordinate an appointment with them, it is easier to proceed this way than by going to their offices and speaking to them individually,” she said.
The study identified new areas of expertise that stem from using ICT for work, apart from the actual ICT skills themselves.
“Flexible working conditions without defined boundaries require competencies in the management of time and space, as well as the ability to manage borders,” Roth-Ebner said.
Further, the study pointed to a “subjectification” trend , where work encompasses set goals that need to be achieved, but the methods of achieving them are down to the individual workers.
“What is decisive is the outcome and not the efforts that lead to the goal,” said Roth-Ebner.
However, as people often use personally tailored software, file structures and accounts, on their own laptops, the result is that no one else can do the work if they are unable to.
A female study participant gave Roth-Ebner an example of this, where “This once led to the situation that she had to work at home while she was on sick leave”.