laptop computer

Maybe you’re too young to remember when you got your first laptop computer. (Mine was in 1998 and it weighed about 5 pounds that felt more like 20.) Maybe you’ve never been without one for work. As an article in The Atlantic points out, what seemed like a good idea at the time really began the erosion of work/life balance that smart phones have continued.

Cast your mind back to 2008. The average rent for a house in the US Was $800. The Sex and the City movie came out. And for the first time, companies bought more laptop computers than desktops. This was a very big deal because while we could access email and text messages on our phones, to do the heavy lifting—access to data bases, getting behind firewalls for important information, and holding these cool new things called WebEx meetings—you needed real computers.

And there they were right there…

All. The. Time.

Sure, we blame our phones, but the real obsession with always being on, the need to check and send email at all hours of the day and night, and the inability to take our vacations seriously really began accelerating when our entire office fit into a bag.

By the way, this has largely killed the briefcase industry, as even grown people in thousand-dollar suits schlep backpacks around. It’s contributed to a crisis of carry-on baggage space on airlines as someone’s overstuffed computer bag takes the place of somebody else’s roller bag and the turf wars become intense.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

Laptops were going to allow us to be just as productive when traveling ON BUSINESS as we were in the office. We could have every presentation we’d ever need at our fingertips instead of carrying bulky overhead transparencies. We could respond to customer questions or orders at the push of a button, and who needed secretaries and admin assistants when every salesperson could write their own letters and send them off at the speed of light.

Before we take the torches and pitchforks to Michael Dell, or begin our March on Redmond, let’s remember who is really the problem here:

  • Organizations who talk a good game about work-life balance but are happy to take advantage of 24-7 access to employees
  • Managers who forget that the start of the workday in Philadelphia is 6 AM in Fresno, but expect quick answers to emails anyway; or send “one last email before bed,” and aren’t at all surprised to find it being answered in real time
  • Employees who are either too conscientious to let an email sit unanswered over the weekend or are terrified their teammates will think they’re slacking if they aren’t always available

The problem isn’t the laptop per se, it’s the fact that we as a culture can’t bring ourselves to disconnect from it. The tyranny of the smart phone is merely a progression of the problem that began when we could have work with us all the time, everywhere.

We can’t (and don’t want to) go back, so what can we do?

So let’s stop worrying about the fact we have tools that allow us to be super-productive and have more flexibility in our work schedules. After all, these are the same tools that allow us to Skype with our grandparents and catch highlights of the Fury-Wilder fight the morning after. They aren’t all bad.

How are you establishing boundaries around your work time?

How are you coaching your team to disconnect and be productive when they should and taking their lives back when appropriate?

Just asking.


Wayne Turmel--The Remote Leadership Institute

Wayne Turmel
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in

Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.

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