If marketers want to reach consumers during the majority of their waking hours, they may now have to contend with a new gatekeeper: the boss.
As the lines between work and home blur, more of us are ringing up sales from our desks.
jorian Clarke lives in her office. Literally. When her Internet research and Web design company, SpectraCom, outgrew its office space nearly two years ago, Clarke purchased a 30,000-square-foot building in Milwaukee and moved in. Her 65 employees didn't need all that space, so Clarke and her husband transformed the fifth floor into living quarters. "There are days where I never even leave the building," she says.
Clarke is an extreme example of how work and the rest of life are blending together. If we're not living at the office, we're working from home - or in the car or from a hotel room. Corporate America's need to react quickly to ever-changing business environments has transformed our idea of work and leisure. Vacation? That's the time-off we manage to squeeze in during the business boondoggles to the Caribbean, or the hours not spent checking in via e-mail or cell phone. Today's average married couple labor a staggering 717 hours more each year than a working duo in 1969. The tools that were supposed to free us from the shackles of our desks have bound us to our jobs in ways unimaginable just a decade ago. "They are electronic umbilical cords to the workplace," says Joanne B. Ciulla, author of The Working Life: The Promise and Betrayal of Modern Work.
Does this mean an end to leisure? Not exactly. But it does signal a change in our idea of freedom from the job. Once described as the ability to "get away" from the physical office, workplace independence is now defined by our ability to create flexible work schedules that revolve around our daily lives. It's a shift that carries huge implications for marketers and how they target their consumers. Just a few years ago, for example, employees handled personal shopping chores before or after traditional work hours. Today, as the lines between work and home blur and online shopping becomes more convenient, more of us are ringing up sales from our desks. Rather than trying to isolate hours of the day that are completely free from work or slog through hours totally devoid of leisure, we're melding the two together.
All of this comes with Corporate America's blessing. Companies have come to demand greater productivity from employees, even as they struggle to hold onto workers in today's tight labor market. For some businesses, the answer to achieving those productivity gains - without losing workers - is to help employees manage life from the cubicle. In 1999, 19 percent of the total population had Internet access at work, compared with just 7 percent in 1996, according to Statistical Research, Inc. And, some employers have taken this a step further by helping workers send flowers to grandma or change the oil in the family sedan. What does this mean for marketers? If you want to reach consumers during the majority of their waking hours, you may now have to contend with a new gatekeeper: the boss. "Employers are looking for ways to keep people more involved with work and available for work," says Roger Herman, a strategic business futurist in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Engaging workers is key. Some companies have created employer-sponsored workplace portals and consortiums to help employees better manage their lives. Employers like Ernst & Young and Arthur Andersen, for example, have hired companies such as Circles, a work/life concierge company based in Boston. At www.circles.com, employees of participating firms can shop from a variety of prescreened e-tailers and even have a Circles staffer to assist with everything from day-care screening to travel arrangements. Employees don't pay a dime for the concierge service because it's an employment benefit, similar to health insurance.
It's a benefit Kathy A. Fields uses regularly. The 34-year-old Boston lawyer works hectic and late hours, a schedule that leaves little time for personal chores. In January, her firm, Testa Hurwitz & Thibeault LLP, signed up with Circles. Since then, Fields has used the concierge service to renew her passport, repair her garbage disposal, and schedule doctor's appointments. When her family comes to visit this August, Fields will have an itinerary waiting. Fields asked Circles to check into schedules of baseball games, art exhibits, the theatre, and concerts. Circles sent her the information and even suggested a couple of additional options. "The service saves me as much in time, as it does in aggravation," she says. "It makes the job so much easier."
Concierge service companies typically aggregate their buying power among airlines, cleaning, and even flower delivery services, so they can negotiate competitive prices on behalf of consumers. For example, Circles, with 1.5 million current "members," is projected to become the third largest purchaser of flowers in the United States by year's end. Participating stores like the idea because it presents them as a prescreened choice. "Consumers' bandwidth is so minimal, they can't keep up with 70 brands," says Kathy Sherbrooke, Circles' co-founder.
The benefit to marketers is clear: a captive audience. Concierge services have exclusive access to a defined group of upscale consumers. Sherbrooke says Circles' average member is a professional, 35 to 55 years old, with an income of at least $75,000. What's more, marketers who offer their services via concierge networks can engage in some unobtrusive marketing wrapped in along with the service. Customers who use Baltimore, Maryland-based RewardsPlus, for example, are learning about specific brands as they use the Web to garner additional "perks" of employment, like discounts on movie tickets and restaurants.
RewardsPlus' Web site (www.rewardsplus.com) also provides the mechanism for employees to pay for big-ticket items, such as car insurance, through payroll deduction. "It's the crossroads between Internet marketing and affinity marketing," explains Steve J. Fecko, the company's senior vice president of marketing. This channel is especially attractive for companies marketing big-ticket, infrequent purchases, like cars or a house, Fecko says. Why? Because they keep that brand in front of consumers every day on the work home page that they log onto several times a day."
how did we get here? Employers helping workers plan their parties? Employees becoming hostage to increasingly convenient technology? The blurring of work and home life is actually a very old solution to the problem of all-encompassing work, points out SpectraCom's Jorian Clarke, who is also a sociologist. Decades ago, when the primary business of the United States was agriculture, there was little distinction between work time and leisure time. "When people worked and lived on the farm, families were able to juggle both their family needs and their work needs," says Clarke.
The industrial revolution, with its assembly-lines and shift workers, brought an end to that state. Today, however, many of us have moved into jobs that do not require us to cram the workday between sunrise and sunset. In fact, in the global economy, there's good reason to be open 24 hours a day because even in the dead of night, somewhere on earth, a customer needs attention. Call it Blur: The Sequel.
The information revolution may have made this possible, but it's the advent of wireless communication that put it in hyperdrive. Half of all Americans own a cell phone, and two-thirds of users talk on them at least several times a week, according to a recent Gallup poll. Moreover, 46 percent of pleasure travelers hang onto their cell phones when they're away, according to the Travel Industry Association of America. It's not just voice mail, either: 18 percent clutch their pagers, 6 percent haul their laptops, and 10 percent check e-mail on vacation.
And it goes both ways - we take work on vacation, and family to work. For example, more of us are trying to wring some quality time out of corporate junkets: In 1999, 23 million business trips included a child, compared with 7.4 million trips in 1987, an increase of more than 200 percent. That might be because we aren't traveling purely for leisure as often as we used to. The Travel Industry Association found that 37 percent of all adults claim they are less able to take a vacation this year because of demands on their time. Last winter, the group found that the average number of days consumers planned to spend on their longest vacation dropped to a five-year low of 7.6 days.
The fact that we're trying to squeeze more pleasure out of business isn't all that surprising considering how much Americans work. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 22 percent of women worked more than 40 hours a week in 1998, compared with 14 percent in 1979. As for men, 40 percent work more than 40 hours a week, an increase of 5 percentage points over the two decades. It's not surprising, then, that 41 percent of American workers say they come home from work exhausted, up from 36 percent in 1989, according to data from the 1998 General Social Survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.
And if you're counting on retirement to remedy the situation, you might be in for a big disappointment. The New Economy is still pumping out new jobs, which means a shortage of skilled labor. Among the short-term solutions: hiring older workers with flexible work schedules. "Enjoying the leisure life got old after a while," says Courtney Day, vice president of marketing at The Senior Network, a firm that markets to older consumers. "We have generations of retirees realizing that life is more fun if they continued to be engaged with work. They have years in front of them where they can still be very productive."
Besides, it's not all that bad. "The blurring of the line between work and leisure is good in some ways because it allows you to spend more time at home or with your family," says Ciulla, although she also points out that there's a possibility the extra time might just as easily be gobbled up by more work. "Work is voracious," she says. "Leisure is not."
Keep those aromatherapy candles handy. Conducting the business of life from the office may save time - but it can also create more stress than it relieves.
It's official: Online access at the office leads to happier employees.
According to a Harris Poll released in March, most workers are pleased with their ability to roam free through cyberspace. More than seven in 10 people who are online at work say the Internet has increased their productivity. Fifty-eight percent say access to the Web has made their work more enjoyable, 45 percent say it has made their job more challenging, and 45 percent say it has made their lives less stressful.
But not all work surfers were uniformly pleased. Although only 15 percent say that the Web has made their lives more difficult, a significant 25 percent claim online capabilities have made their lives more hectic.
The amount of relief workers find online probably depends on what they're browsing. In 1999, Media Metrix found that at-work surfers spent the most time on news, information, entertainment, and search engine sites, followed by marketing or corporate sites. All are arguably legitimate clicks in the line of duty. But work surfers also spent an average of 46 minutes per month on adult-content Web sites, and an average 45 minutes shopping. In fact, a survey of 1,500 companies by Websense, an Internet access management company in San Diego, California, found that the most common causes for employee-related disciplinary actions were accessing pornography, chatting online, gaming, investing, or shopping at work.
Yet, only 9 percent of workers think that their work performance has suffered from Internet use, according to a recent survey for Pogo.com by Greenfield Online. Only 4 percent of workers say that their boss or another supervisor has complained about the amount of time they spend online. Happier workers may be more productive after all.
Will blurring the line between work and leisure mean relief from stress? For the sake of younger consumers, let's hope so. Inforum's 1999 Pulse Survey from The MEDSTAT Group found that adults aged 35 and younger were the most stressed out - nearly seven in 10 said they were somewhat to extremely stressed. That's in stark contrast to adults aged 65 and older: 31 percent of that age range said they had no stress in their lives whatsoever.
Apparently, when it comes to stress, experience counts. Older consumers believe that they're more effective at dealing with stress than younger adults. And getting a good night's rest probably helps: More than a third of adults under the age of 25 say that they don't get enough sleep most of the time or all of the time, whereas 39 percent of adults over the age of 65 say they never miss a good night's sleep.
Younger consumers may also be more stressed out because they aren't able to get away. More than half of adults aged 18 to 24 said that they didn't have time to take a vacation, according to the Travel Industry Association of America. When the youngsters do get out of town, they aren't gone for long: 42 percent of travelers who are away for just the weekend are aged 18 to 34 - the largest share of any group. [For more stats on stress, check out Toplines, p. 9]