I read a blog post by Eric Olson, talking about trying to figure out if there was or should be a line between “work” and “life”. Eric pointed out that in the past, our customers were also our friends and neighbors. We were our work, but we were also the person next door.

With the development of bigger cities and suburbs, we couldn’t keep track of everyone in our community the same way as before. Newspapers carried the news that used to be shared over back fences, as did phone lines.

New ways of communicating can make things more impersonal, at least for a time. A mom I spoke with yesterday was decrying the use of flame email in her neighborhood to discuss whether certain things like a flag pole or a picnic table in the cul de sac violated community norms and reduced property values. She viewed this as another piece of evidence that the computer degraded relationships, rather than built them.

As things have evolved from the very personal to the ability to communicate remotely, and less one on one, some of the civility and community responsibility has degraded as well.

People forget there is someone on the other side of the screen or keyboard- that there are people there, forming impressions of you without you even being there in corpus, so to speak. Perhaps finding out a bit more about you than you may have intended to reveal. Things you might type, but never say in person.

While some people find this sort of thing the reason to shun technology, I look at it as a natural growing pain in our ability to adapt to new forms of communication.

I am always aware that I am responsible for everything I say online or in person. I re-read and edited most of my posts, giving me the opportunity to clarify what might otherwise be very “shoot from the hip.” I expect to be held accountable for my positions, and that’s just fine by me.

But this means being careful when being critical. I learned to use the “critique sandwich” from Rick LaVoie- say something nice, say what you have to say- the critique- and end on a positive note at the end. People are more likely to hear the “constructive criticism” this way, and feel good about you and the interaction.

I don’t adopt any personas online- I am just me, the same person online as I am to my neighbors and collegues. I am not perfect, but I am also as consistent as a human can be. And this means there is no difference between the online me, the work me, and the personal me.

In the digital age, we can all take the opportunity to “live out loud”. We are searchable and findable and accessible to a much broader community than ever before. True privacy might apply in your bathroom or home, but that’s where it ends.

This means making sure you are managing yourself, your “brand story” as Chris Brogan has spoken about, all the time. Sounds tough, but if you are comfortable with who you are, there is no line necessary between work and life. You are a unity- like monotheism versus polytheism.

Now letting the amount of “stuff” you have to manage for financial gain to crowd out your enjoyment of leisure time, time with family and friends- that is a separate debate for another day.

The line between a 24 x 7 workplace and your leisure time is something we all need to do for sanity reasons. Being able to unplug is REALLY important and provides perspective we all need.
But the line between who you are at work and who you are the rest of the time is easy- there should be no distinctions. And we should treat our colleagues/customers/associates/staff like we treat our friends and neighbors. Why would you want to treat them any other way?