Scary Trend: The Explosion of Wearing Work on Our Wrists

As I look back on this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, I am struck by the explosion of all-purpose wearables and the reality that soon we will wear work on our wrists. If you already struggle with the boundaries between work and life with your smartphone, wearables will take that challenge to a whole new level.

No longer can we separate from work in our pockets or purses. Unless you plan to remove your watch constantly, it will be even harder to “turn off” the workplace.

To be sure, much good can come from having your phone, email, texts, heart rate monitor and number of steps in one easy-to-access spot. According to the national telephone survey we recently conducted with Citrix, seven out of 10 full-time U.S. workers said the increase in workplace technology has made it easier to collaborate and communicate with colleagues. And more than half said it made it easier to work flexibly.

But there’s a dark side. According to the same survey, 28 percent of full-time U.S. workers also said increases in technology have created more work and nearly one-quarter said the growth in technology felt “a bit like big brother is watching you.” Men were significantly more likely than women to voice that view.

The good news is if you are not an early tech adopter like me, you have time to prepare for how you might enjoy the benefits of wearing your work. Two tips:

Clarify expectations for accessibility and response time: When work is attached physically to your body, either you clarify expectations or make peace with never disconnecting from it. To date, I’ve found people resist setting expectations with managers and colleagues about their accessibility and response time when they’re away from the office. We worry our commitment may be questioned so we keep quiet. But oftentimes no one is expecting always-on availability with immediate responses.

To enjoy the flexibility benefits of wearables, you have to coordinate with colleagues. Knowing they can contact you if needed can give you a greater degree of flexibility in the way you work, but when you can’t be reached let your colleagues know in advance. Then provide an alternative way to contact you if the matter is urgent or suggest someone who can help in your absence.

Plan breaks from technology in advance: Research confirms that the email, text and social media notifications that pop up stimulate dopamine in the brain, which is why we find them so hard to ignore. Imagine how much harder that will be when your wrist is constantly pinging and ringing. We need to be more intentional about the way work and life flexibly fit together.  Sure, because we aren’t always connected to our smartphones, those moments of attention and focus can still happen by default. But not when work is an accessory. You’ll need to decide, “when am I either turning off my watch or taking it off?”

Or, just say no to wearing your work on your wrist altogether: I met a well-respected middle manager a couple of years ago who showed me his seven year-old flip-phone when I asked him how he flexibly managed his work+life fit. He explained, “When I leave, everyone knows if they need me they can call this phone any time. I do have access to my email via my laptop. I check it when I first get home after work to make sure nothing popped up while I commuted and again when I get up in the morning to make sure nothing requires immediate attention. But if I don’t get a call, I assume all is well and enjoy the other parts of my life. And, guess what? I’ve never gotten a call.”

What do you think about the trend in wearables and what it means for your work+life fit?

I invite you to connect with me and continue the conversation on twitter @caliyost and on Facebook.