In Work’s Intimacy, Melissa Gregg pays much attention to the challenge faced by part-time workers in knowledge industries. Many of her participants within this category reported regularly finding themselves checking e-mail outside of their paid hours, something they saw as necessary to ensure they were ‘prepared’. In this way, ‘catch up days’ become an unpaid accompaniment to the hours part-time workers are actually paid for. These activities were often explained in terms of personal autonomy and choice, sacrificing free time in the name of professional performance on work days. But as Gregg writes on loc 1273:
Even though their language speaks of personal preference and exceptionalism, their consistent stories point to a clear problem in the way part-time work is recognized in information and communication jobs. No formal policies existed for them to manage online obligations; nor were there guidelines for appropriate response times. Employees operated on the basis of vague and self-imposed ideas about what management would or wouldn’t expect. In each case, there was simply no framework for discussing how part-time work was repositioned in light of the widespread reliance on online technologies in team-based office cultures (see chapter 4). Technology served to confirm, when it did not also accelerate the temporality of the workplace. Improvised and makeshift arrangements left many part-timers feeling apologetic for their so-called “flexible” positions.
I agree this is a failure of management. But it’s also a failure of colleagues, in terms of what we might call chronoimagination (recognising that someone else’s temporal experience might be different to yours) and chronosolidarity (identifying a common interest in sustainable temporalities of work in spite of these differences). Chronosolidarity is easy when people are obviously in a similar position to yourself, though small communicative acts of reassurance and understanding are no less valuable for the fact they come easily. But the challenge comes when temporal positions work rather differently, too easily giving rise to the assumption someone else’s working life is easier or perhaps not giving rise to thought at all.
Under working conditions which are informal, flexible/precarious and desynchronised, chronoimagination and chronosolidarity should be regarded as important factors in shaping the experience of work. Doing so should not blind us to the structural origins of these problems, such that they are reproduced to interpersonal challenges susceptible to a technical fix. But we need to recognise the imagination relating to converging/diverging experiences of time which we bring to bear, or fail to, in our dealings with others who are differently placed in relation to organisational hierarchies.