After-hours Remote Work and Family Life: The Impact of Work-Extending Technology


  • Jessica L. Navarro, Doctoral Student, UNC Greensboro Human Development and Family Studies
  • Heather M. Helms, Professor & Director of Graduate Studies, UNC Greensboro Human Development and Family Studies

Document type: Encyclopedia Entry

Appears in: Work and Family Encyclopedia

Year: 2020


The development of information communication technology (ICT) has dramatically influenced the way people communicate, socialize, and work. In the past fifteen years, the use of smartphones has skyrocketed among working adults. In the United States, 85% of adults owned a cell phone in 2019, up from 35% in 2011 (Pew Research Center 2019). Since the advent of the BlackBerry in 2002 and the iPhone in 2007, these forms of ICT have quickly altered the dimensions of modern work; traditional notions of time and space have been upended (Towers, Duxbury, and Thomas 2005). Desk-based employees are no longer bound by landlines, typewriters, or heavy desktop computers. Smartphones, laptops, and tablets enable workers to work from anywhere with an internet connection, allowing many employees to work remotely. However, modern employees are often perpetually connected during non-work hours—checking email and responding to messages in the evenings, on weekends, and on vacations. This perpetual connection has also changed the pace of work; communications are now speedier and more dense (Chesley and Johnson 2010).

How work-extending technology (WET) impacts the relation between after-hours remote work and family life is a dynamic area of research, especially given that “studying technology use is like trying to hit a moving target” (Chesley 2005:1246). As elucidated by Hessel and Dworkin (2018) in their review of adolescents’ use of ICT with family members, comparisons across studies can be challenging because of the different technologies described in each (e.g., earlier studies limited to cell phones while later studies took a wider view, choosing to include social media). As the COVID-19 shutdowns have illustrated, how society utilizes ICT can change dramatically in a few days, and research must adapt to accommodate how these changes impact workers and their families.

Studies of the intersection of technology, work, and family life are found across a wide variety of disciplines, including sociology, communications, management, and occupational therapy, psychology, and family studies. By synthesizing theories and findings across disciplines, our aim is to elucidate key ideas, clarify terminologies, and explore the complex and dynamic role WET play in the relations between after-hours remote work and family. This review covers: 1) a brief background of the history, theories, and key concepts related to WET, 2) the importance of WET to work-family research, 3) an overview of the existing research about WET, and 4) implications for research and practice.

Link: After-Hours Remote Work and Family Life