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Invisible work

I’m on a flight back from London and finally I’m able to switch from intensive conversations to thinking and writing.

It was a good trip with a blend of fun and work that I like so much. However I had an underlying flavour of guilt building up. It’s something to do with invisible work as Suw labelled it.

Talking about blogging at last BlogWalk we went into discussion of how “not serious” blogging and especially reading weblogs looks from outside, an attitude I encounter pretty often – “you are probably not that busy if you find time to blog”.

Sure it doesn’t look like work – browsing through a bunch of websites that doesn’t look work-related and writing informal posts. Even when it is an important part of my work – a way to watch trends, to find references, to test my own ideas with a community of experts that you would probably pay to get into – even then it doesn’t look serious for an outsider.

I guess it’s something to do with expectations. For those who have work-life balance work is something you do in the office, sitting on your desk with serious face (even if you are actually checking for movies to go to tonight ;). Or, even better, work is about meetings that hijack you schedule, so you have to run around for the whole day. Even a coffee-table discussion looks good – everyone knows that a bit of socialisation with colleagues helps at work. Somehow all visible activities look more serious and more like work.

Having a work-life balance implies that you don’t bring work home – evenings and weekends are protected and only emergency deadlines can break through. It also means having fun at courses and conferences – a way to get out of usual environment and learn new things without a pressure of deadlines…

So, here I am coming back after 10 days of travelling with that “guilt flavour” that comes not from feeling that I did something wrong, but from thinking that from outside it looks like I had fun instead of working in the office. Feels funny to be guided so much by my imagination of expectations of others, but at the end we are social animals, aren’t we?

I know that most of work I do during travels is invisible. Like this time. Comments on my last paper over dinners that I probably wouldn’t get by email, a day at BlogWalk that left me more exorsted as any day in the office would, 5 days of AOIR with sessions that saved me time sifting through the web in search of people, papers and ideas, meetings with London-based bloggers that gave away secrets of implementing blogs in companies and created ground for future joint work, writing in trains, and, of course, email at all brief moments when I got a connection.

I probably did more this week than I would if I would stay in the office. Being visible at work is a good shield for procrastination that hits me from time to time, while I feel responsible for delivering visible results every time I work in “invisible mode”, at home or on the road. I know that the only way to deviate is to show that you do your job well 🙂

What strikes me is that I feel guilty, but also this strange paradox that in the era of knowledge work, era of invisibles and intangibles – ideas, trust, reputation – my work is still guided so much by “visibles” – being in the office during work hours, looking busy and doing something perceived as serious…

Discussions during this trip made me realising something that was implicit: my interest in blogging comes not from believing that this technology is better than others, but from sensing that it has a potential of changing working practices and workplaces to accommodate people with passion for work they do. Part of these changes is about learning to appreciate the invisible and to find a good ways to “manage” it. My quest for discovering the knowledge work iceberg is an attempt to make workplaces a bit friendlier to new ways of working, but it’s also very selfish – I want to work in the environment where I don’t feel guilty doing work I’m passionate about in a way that works for me

Finally, after writing all these I feel peace inside instead of feeling guilty. I’m in a train half way home where I can finally unload my laptop from writing waiting to be posted, so I can think of my next paper, think of connecting the dots of knowledge work theories with my own experiences hoping that it would make work more fun. It means working on Sunday (again :), but ideas are funny creatures – they come to visit without thinking about appropriate time and place and they tend to choose moments when I’m relaxed and receptive – so I don’t feel like respecting work-life balance instead of thinking and writing. Passion for work could be a curse, but I choose to believe it’s a blessing 😉

This post also appears on channel BlogWalk

Archived version of this entry is available at http://blog.mathemagenic.com/2004/09/26.html#a1359; comments are here.

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