Virtuality, smartphones and work-life balance


by Petros Chamakiotis

There exists cross-disciplinary recognition (e.g., in the organizational and information systems literatures) that virtuality influences our societies significantly (Panteli, 2009). For instance, organizations increasingly deploy global virtual teams, spanning geo-temporal, organizational, and other boundaries. These configurations bring about such challenges as developing trust (Jarvenpaa and Leidner, 1999) and managing creativity in a virtual environment (Chamakiotis et al., 2013). In education, students use virtual platforms to attend their lectures, collaborate with their classmates, and deliver their coursework. Relevant literature finds that the use of smartphones in the classroom may enhance students’ motivation and learning experience significantly (Schmiedl et al., 2010). The list of examples of virtuality is long and its prevalence in numerous domains unequivocal.

The last two newsletters of our working group have been concerned with the issue of digital objects. In particular, Griffiths (2013), in the last blogpost, discusses the role played by mobile devices today, highlighting that our societies are tethered to virtuality insofar that the boundaries between virtuality and ‘reality’ have begun to erode. Smartphones, specifically, have become pervasive in numerous contexts (Mazmanian et al., in press) and current literature has addressed emerging issues surrounding their use. For instance, Pritchard and Symon (in press) explore how smartphone photography contributes to knowledge sharing and development in a distributed work environment in the engineering domain. Smartphone use has also been discussed specifically in relation to work-life balance (e.g., Middleton, 2008).

The literature on work-life balance assumes that different domains are embraced within our lives (e.g., work, family, community) and that we perform different role identities within each domain (e.g., worker, parent). Clark (2000) argues that physical and other boundaries exist between the different domains in which we perform these different role identities. MacCormick et al. (2012) consider that the growing popularity and adoption of digital technologies, including smartphones, may give rise to new, unprecedented boundaries or may render existing boundaries more easily permeable. This line of thought raises additional questions; for example, how do digital technologies influence transitions across work and life boundaries?

This is a topic we are exploring in a research project entitled ‘Creativity Greenhouse: Digital Brain Switch’ and funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). Eight researchers, including social scientists and computer scientists, from four British Universities—Lancaster University, Open University, Royal Holloway University of London, and University of Kent—have come together to examine this issue with the aims of: (a) learning more about how we manage the digital objects in our lives, across roles and boundaries; and (b) engaging in collaborative design of digital technologies to support this process.


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CLARK, S.C. 2000. Work/family border theory: A new theory of work/family balance. Human Relations, 53(6), 747-770.

GRIFFITHS, M. 2013. Virtuality and Society: ‘alone in the crowd’. IFIP W.G. 9.5 on Virtuality & Society [Online]. Available from: [Accessed 21 August 2013].

JARVENPAA, S.L. and LEIDNER, D.E. 1999. Communication and trust in global virtual teams. Organization Science, 10(6), 791-815.

MACCORMICK, J.S., DERY, K. and KOLB, D.G. 2012. Engaged or just connected? Smartphones and employee engagement. Organizational Dynamics, 41(3), 194-201.

MAZMANIAN, M., ORLIKOWSKI, W.J. and YATES, J.A. in press. The Autonomy Paradox: The Implications of Mobile Email Devices for Knowledge Professionals. Organization Science.

MIDDLETON, C.A. 2008. Do mobile technologies enable work-life balance? Dual perspectives on BlackBerry usage for supplemental work. In: HISLOP, D. (ed.) Mobility and technology in the workplace. London, UK: Routledge.

PANTELI, N. 2009. Virtual Social Networks: A New Dimension for Virtuality Research. In: PANTELI, N. (ed.) Virtual Social Networks: Mediated, Massive and Multiplayer Sites. Hampshire, UK: Palgrave-Macmillan.

PRITCHARD, K. and SYMON, G. in press. Picture Perfect? Exploring the use of smartphone photography in a distributed work practice. Management Learning.

SCHMIEDL, G., GRECHENIG, T. and SCHMIEDL, B. 2010. Mobile enabling of virtual teams in school: an observational study on smart phone application in secondary education. In:  2nd International Conference on Education Technology and Computer (ICETC), 22-24 June, 2010 2010 Shanghai, China. IEEE, V2-74-V2-79.