Sunday, March 29, 2009

the meaning of work in the 21st century

I've been lucky. Ever since my first was born 2.5 years ago, I've been working online for an amazing organization, So when Fem2.0 put out the call for blogs on women and work in the 21st century, I thought, "Hey! I might have something to say about this."

I had to look no further than my own organization's blog for inspiration. Joan Blades, intrepid co-founder of both and wrote about "Working Smart vs. Working Stupid," talking about the virtues of online work. Joan Williams writes a persuasive post on important work-life policies which includes flexibility.

Flexibility is really important to me. I have two kids under 2.5 years old, a bit of (free!) childcare help from my mom, and a part time job. We're saving up to buy a house right now, and I can't put thousands of dollars toward childcare. And truth be told, while the juggle to produce work AND care for little ones is sometimes crazy-making, I feel lucky I have this opportunity to juggle. I can take a second to hug my kid or to nurse while typing. I'm not going to get invited to Cirque du Soleil for my balancing act, but it has its sweet moments.

However! Working for an online organization means that there exists practically nothing BUT the bottom line. The results are almost all that matters. We talk all the time about metrics, for good reason-- in online work, if we can't measure it, maybe it didn't happen.

That isn't to say that the stuff that cannot be measured isn't important. A good online organizer is a good on-the-ground organizer, too. It's still people that move policy, not just online ephemera -- or "the ether," as they say. And to move people, to organize well, you have to be good at connecting with those people. Using emotion! Geekdom isn't all 0110101. I do pick up the phone and make personal connections with folks, and my favorite still is meeting colleagues and potential allies face to face. I'm good face to face and try to get in as much as possible.

It also isn't to say there isn't *some* face time involved. It's just that it takes different forms. I should probably schedule a one-on-one call with my ED right now, in fact. Face time online can also mean leaving my "Available to chat" button on every time I'm logged on- including right now, so if a co-worker happens to be online at 11:03 PM PST and needs me, she can contact me. I'm ok with this level of availability, because with it comes the flexibility I need to raise my kids.

If I had to work in that 1950s corporate model of an office that Joan Williams describes, well, everything would be different. The way I raise my babies, the way I live my life. My priorities would shift to accommodate my work. Now, my work life and personal life accommodate each other. This satisfies me-- it seems sane and reasonable. I can prioritize my family without feeling like my work is suffering. I can work without feeling like I'm losing touch.

Of course, it's not perfect. There are days I'm on mute for entire conference calls because I'm holding a crying baby. Days when it takes 15 minutes to write a simple email because I'm nursing and typing one-handed. Days when I just want ONE freaking hour to myself to think uninterrupted, and not have that hour be 12:00 AM- 1:00 AM.

But it's what I've got, and I'm grateful. I know I'll keep finding ways to increase my productivity and to improve my parenting. I hope I keep learning forever. And I hope the American corporate culture is just as committed to improving, changing, growing, evolving.