Socio-Technical Systems and Work-Home Boundaries Workshop, September 2014

On Sept. 23rd 2014 we held the “Socio-Technical Systems and Work-Home Boundaries” workshop during MobileHCI conference in Toronto, Canada.

This workshop was one of the outcomes of our Digital Epiphanies project, in an effort to open up the discussion to a broader range of researchers in the field of technology and work-home boundaries. Among the attendees were human-computer interaction (HCI) specialists, social scientists, and sociologists.

The workshop was divided into three parts: first, all papers were presented (see the workshop program for the list of papers), each followed by a short Q&A session.

Natasha

Dr Natasha Mauthner presenting her paper, “Technology and the (re)making of work and family”

Secondly, a discussion was moderated around three broad topics:

  • Our definition of key terms such as ‘home’, ‘work’ and ‘boundaries’?
  • The methods most commonly used?
  • Non-use of technology and work-home boundaries?

Finally, the outcome of the workshop was agreed to be a special issue on Technology and Work-Home Boundaries (soon to be announced!).

The initial discussion revolved around the implications of these different perspectives for research investigating technology and work-home boundaries. This interest originated from the use of a survey published by Kossek et al (2012) as a way of measuring boundary management. However, implicit in the use of this survey is the assumption that we all adopt the same definition of the terms used: ‘work’, ‘home’, ‘family’, ‘permeable boundaries’, ‘flexible boundaries’, etc. Therefore, even though universally accepted definitions were not defined in the workshop, it was clear that researchers should not assume that their own explanation of “work-home boundaries” are matched with others. This is of particular importance when we work in interdisciplinary teams. One of the challenges for interdisciplinary collaboration is to define common grounds for research and this generally starts with an awareness of how each discipline describes key terms

Rowanne Fleck

Dr Rowanne Fleck presenting her paper, “Balancing Boundaries: The Role of Technology Boundary Work in Managing Work-Life Balance”

. As far as methods adopted, there was more of an overlap. This showed that observations, interviews and questionnaires were commonly used, especially in situ. Quantitative data was also collected (e.g. screenshots of devices) and additionally HCI researchers conducted also more controlled studies in the lab. However, more research should consider non-use of technology as an informant of how technology is interweaved in our everyday lives. Non-use of technology can refer to holidays or periods abroad, where Internet connectivity can be costly, but it can also refer to unavailability of technology. For example, Becky Faith from the Open University studies how socially excluded women use technology. Because the majority of them are homeless, they don’t necessarily always have an opportunity to charge their smartphone’s battery or put credit on it.

Natasha Mauthner, from Aberdeen University, instead talked about how young teenagers might not be allowed a mobile phone, but then are given one without a SIM card to use merely as an alarm clock. These perspectives emphasise the different reasons for non-use that particular users encounter and that need to be taken into consideration. If we only consider how technology is used to shape work-home boundaries, we might be missing out on important information provided by non-use.

It is clear the role of technology in work-home boundaries is topical and frequently discussed in popular media (e.g. http://bit.ly/1rURSzN). For this reason the last part of the workshop was directed towards producing a special issue proposal. With such publication we hope to bring together researchers from relevant fields to contribute and extend our understanding on technology and work-home boundaries.

Marta and the Digital Epiphanies Team

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