Do we multitask while working from home? Maybe? Kinda? Sorta?
"Female workers consider taking care of family members when working from home as an essential and only way to balance work and life identities, whereas men consider the “me time,” such as using social media and listening to music when working from home, an important part of their work-life identity balance” (Xu, Kee, Mao, p. 20, 2021)"
I have a wonderful friend of many years, Dr. Maurice Graham, M.D., who assures me that we can indeed multitask. I don’t agree in the slightest and as our discussions on the topic have ebbed and flowed over time, the truth is: Maurice is older than me and his wisdom ‘may’ provide some advantage. But let’s not digress into the objectivist comfort zone of ‘fact, right or wrong, good or bad’ for now. Let’s look at some actual research on the topic.
According to Wang and Tchernev, multitasking is the act of performing multiple tasks simultaneously or switching rapidly from one task to another (2012). Within this definition lies my friendly disagreement with my buddy Maurice and most modern researchers on the ability to multitask. This definition, like many others, is a catch-all sentence that is incredibly similar to the old work agreement phrase: “Do these tasks” and (conveniently located at the bottom of the job description in size 1 font), “and all other tasks assigned.” Let’s move on.
In August 2020, Dr. Shan Xu (Texas Tech University), Dr. Kerk Kee (Texas Tech University), and Dr. Chang Mao (Ohio State University), gathered survey research data from 429 United States based remote workers. The researchers examined the following four types of multitasking:
The researchers hypothesized that they would find the following:
Hypothesis 1: The balance of work-life identity is positively associated with the four types of multitasking while working from home.
Result: Partially Supported
Hypothesis 2: Compared to low-interactive multitasking, high-interactive multitasking during remote work is associated with greater life interference with work.
Here are some highlights of their findings:
“Results showed that men and women performed similar levels of the four types of multitasking activities when working from home, but their perceptions about these multitasking activities were different, as they multitasked for different reasons and experienced different consequences."
"Specifically, men’s perception of work-life identity balance was positively associated with both interacting with family members in-person and with technology-mediated leisure activities online during work, whereas women’s perceived work-life identity balance was only associated with taking care of families during work."
"These findings imply different perceptions of work-life balance between men and women.
First, female workers consider taking care of family members when working from home as an essential and only way to balance work and life identities, whereas men consider the “me time,” such as using social media and listening to music when working from home, an important part of their work-life identity balance” (Xu, Kee, Mao, p. 20, 2021)."
“… results from this study showed that women’s level of life satisfaction was significantly lower than men’s during the period of working from home” (Xu, Kee, Mao, p. 21, 2021).
This is a research study and therefore will always be limited in reach. Remember, gender is a socially formed and named construct. However, understanding the human condition requires some, unfortunate, objectivism to discover information.
So, can I multitask while working from home? It appears from this article that we want to answer, ‘yes’ to this question in many ways. I submit that we make a conscious decision to do one thing, then move to the next thing, and so and so on. We may go into an auto-pilot mode and breathe while we’re writing or watching the dog splash water all over the recently mopped floor. However, watching the dog in this scenario is the chosen action.
As the article posits, remote workers have pre-existing social pressures, regardless of where they live around the world, and these forces continue to drive everyday life. I submit that it is the responsibly of both employer and employee to recognize these pressures in order to maintain a healthy life.
Take note – remote work is about trust and trust resides in freedom of choice. Trust provides workers the fuel to support and help grow your business.
In closing, recognize this internal mantra, if you have it, as a detriment to wellbeing of both the organization and the individual: “It’s not personal, it’s just business.”
Nothing could be further from the truth; life is about experience and part of this grand experiment is crafting, thinking, and optimizing.
Work includes these key elements, if we’re lucky, and therefore I propose that organizations change the antiquated phrase to one that works to promote wellness: “It’s personal and all business.”
Xu, S., Kee, K., & Mao, C. (2021). Multitasking and Work-Life Balance: Explicating Multitasking When Working from Home. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 65(3), 397–425. https://doi-org.echo.louisville.edu/10.1080/08838151.2021.1976779
Wang, Z., & Tchernev, J. M. (2012). The “Myth” of media multitasking: Reciprocal dynamics of media multitasking, personal needs, and gratifications. Journal of Communication, 62(3), 493–513. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1460-2466.2012.01641.x