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October 23, 2017 BIZ BOOKS

Shadow work that saves and wastes time and money

Shadow Work — The Unpaid, Unseen Jobs that Fill Your Day by Craig Lambert (Counterpoint Press, $16.95).

Soaring personnel costs and new technology have shifted jobs from employees to customers. In the not-to-distant past, making travel arrangements involved calling an airline's reservation customer service rep. Now, you make them online because you'll have to pay extra if you have a customer service rep make them.

We don't complain much about doing the work previously done by others because internet sources offer multiple choices and find the best deals. We know jobs have been displaced; we also know that adding multiple choices for consumers has spawned job growth in other areas.

The internet also offers transparency because it democratizes expertise. How? 1. By making their tools available. Example: You can obtain many fill-in-the-blanks tax preparation and legal documents online. 2. By showing you how to repair and build things. YouTube is filled with instructional videos. We're willing to spend our time to save our money. 3. By demystifying their jargon. Example: You don't have to rely on the expertise of your doctor to explain ulnar neuropathy and treatment options. A few mouse clicks finds a wealth of information. While this can help us make informed decisions, it can also open up Pandora's Box because we're not knowledgeable about ancillary health factors that influence diagnosis and treatment.

In the workplace, democratization of expertise means that we're doing jobs that were once the domain of lower-level administrative support staff. Software allows us to type and send documents, schedule meetings, make copies, etc. We screen our calls via voicemail options.

Does the shadow work that's crept into our jobs make us less productive? Probably. In my corporate days, my administrative assistant took shorthand dictations, and quickly typed up drafts for review and final versions — leaving me free to focus on other priorities. When that position was eliminated, I had to hunt and peck at the keyboard, which changed my priority timeline; the change trickled down to my staff. As a result, work/life balance was affected. We spent more time at work and less time at home.

The bottom line: Time isn't fungible. Some shadow work saves time and money; some wastes time and money.

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