Software

Mobile device email and the 24x7 work week

Do you check the email on your business phone outside of normal work hours? Take the poll and let us know.

Smartphones are a great productivity and communications asset. I'm pretty sure one of the top drivers of corporate smartphone adoption is to ensure that key employees are always connected to the company email, calendar, and contact list. In my own organization, I know this is the primary reason that most users are assigned mobile devices. During special projects and other critical times outside of regular working hours, the volume of email between these users increases exponentially.

I also know that our executive staff hangs on every incoming alert on their devices, and they frequently send out emails after hours and on weekends.

Thinking about this made me wonder if the majority of employees who carry corporate-connected mobile devices continue to manage their email outside of regular working hours as diligently as they do when they're in the office -- or do they mostly ignore incoming email alerts from 5:00 PM on Friday night until 8:00 AM Monday morning? Take the following poll.

This is one of those work/life balance issues that's become fairly significant with the increase of mobile connectivity solutions in the workplace. There seems to be a widespread expectation among executive staff that salaried employees who have company mobile devices should be reachable 24x7x365.

The other side of this issue is that mobile devices constantly send incoming message alerts from a variety of sources. It becomes hard to sort the wheat from the chaff when it comes to every new chime that your mobile device makes. My guess is that fatigued workers, overwhelmed with constant alerts from their phones, begin to tune their devices out when they're not at the office or working on a critical after-hours project.

Members of my executive staff send out emails from their devices and PCs on a regular basis, at all times of the week and at all hours of the day. When these messages are a priority issue, relying on notification solely by email alert is a recipe for unmet expectations. A prudent policy, especially when sending important email outside of regular work hours, is to follow up with a text message or phone call.

There are a number of interesting conclusions one can draw from the above observations.

  1. There seems to be a disconnect between expectations and reality on what corporate-connected mobile devices can and do deliver, especially with regard to constant email access. I think the best way to address this is to have a clearly documented policy of the expectations, including after work hours communications and follow-up messages or phone calls for critical issues.
  2. Since most users don't want to carry around two devices -- one for professional obligations and one for personal use (due partly to notification overload), I think that most companies have lax policies regarding reasonable personal use of work devices outside of business hours. I'm not sure where a sane policy draws the line here -- and this opens a rat's nest of security concerns as well.
  3. There are a lot of reasons other than 24x7 access to company communications to have smartphones. For example, IT workers may be using the device's tools and features to assist in technical roles during the day. However, if you have employees who don't have these daily needs, aren't involved in special projects that require after-hours communication, and they're not required to constantly monitor email and other communications outside of the office, you may need to assess if there's actually a business need for them to even have a device.

Finding a reasonable balance on expectations in an always-connected business environment is a tough thing to achieve. The observations above are a good place to start in formulating a policy for your organization. Do you have any additional tips or insight to add? Tell us how your company approaches this challenge in the discussion thread below.

About

Donovan Colbert has over 16 years of experience in the IT Industry. He's worked in help-desk, enterprise software support, systems administration and engineering, IT management, and is a regular contributor for TechRepublic. Currently, his profession...

10 comments
dcolbert
dcolbert

I can't help but wonder how this plays out in the workforce. In Spain, they have police that go around and make sure that stores and restaurants close down during siesta - because the urge to stay open while your competitors is closed is just too overwhelming. Culturally, siesta is so important to the Spanish that enforcing this goes without question. Here, our work-ethic driven culture says that the person who is willing to be tied 24x7x365 to an electronic tether to work will probably excel in their organization - to the detriment to those of you (us) who are willing to draw reasonable limits. If you're good at what you do, you might get more leeway - but what happens if someone as good as you are comes along who is willing to also put up with that extra intrusion on their work-life balance? I think the feedback here is very good - but this is a looming concern for how I direct my organization's policies toward this kind of connectivity in the future. I imagine ultimately we'll see new legislation and legal action surrounding these issues more frequently in the future. My concern is making sure that my organization is on the right side of the law whenever those things come to pass.

Digital_Budoka
Digital_Budoka

Increased productivity on the road is one thing, but I do not and will not respond to work emails outside of work time unless the situation is extremely dire. I view the expectation to do so as unreasonable - this steady increase of corporate intrusion into our private lives needs to be curbed, and this is where I have drawn my line in the sand. Funnily enough, it seems that if you're good enough at what you do, you can actually get away with having a personal life when the office shuts down.

fhrivers
fhrivers

If I'm expected to answer e-mails at any time of day (sometimes 4am), then I'm coming in whenever the f*** I please and leaving early whenever I can.

jhayesva
jhayesva

I had a BB from before they had voice capabilities. It became second nature to just see what is going on and be on top of any issues before they spun up. With my Android phone and tablet now, its easy to sort through the little stuff so office time is more productive. In the end, the technology replaces the stack of papers that once went home for reading, then back to the office. The caution is that an immediate response does not make it a better response.

mdwalls
mdwalls

I check emails whenever they come in, when I am wearing my corporate Blackberry. I only react to the important/urgent ones. The others can wait until the next work day. I am not on call 24*7, nor do I support mission-critical apps (not any more, thankfully). On weekends, I may not even carry the phone. Those days, I may check once or twice. Now, if I know something may come down I do pay more attention than usual.

dcolbert
dcolbert

On sane policy... With BYOD, I think it is impossible to say "You can't load apps on your smart-phone". But what about corporate supplied devices? Do you allow apps like Words For Friends and Facebook, or is a corporate smart-phone for business use only?

spdragoo
spdragoo

If the corporation issues you a smartphone, you treat it just like the PC in your cubicle/office: -- it's not your property, it's the [b]company's[/b] property -- only [b]company-approved[/b] software gets installed on it -- the company has the right, & you should have the expectation, that [b]every[/b] web search, document, and/or action you take on the device will be monitored, tracked, & even stored for review by the company's IT & HR departments

Sonja Thompson
Sonja Thompson

but that's probably a completely different topic! ;)

JJFitz
JJFitz

At my company (biopharm manufacturing), smartphones (blackberries) are only issued to folks who are required to provide 24X7 access. It is made very clear to the users that the phone must stay on and that you must be reachable. 24X7 responsibilities are defined in the job description and Standard Operating Procedures. Folks are allowed to use it for personal calls and data usage. That privilege is never abused. We do not enforce a password requirement on the blackberries because it was met with a lot of Senior Staff resistance. It is a bit of a vulnerability not to have it but we can remote wipe them if they get lost. What I am noticing is that many people are turning in their blackberries and using their personal smartphones instead. Why? IMHO, iPhones are easier to use and the Androids are smarter than Blackberries. RIM should take notice. Using personal phones for corporate work is a vulnerability because you cannot control what the user installs or does on the phone but it is a cost savings to the company. The IT Department provides minimal support for personal smartphones. - basically we hand out a guide on how to connect to Exchange. Until recently, I was one of those guys who carried two phones (work and personal) because the Blackberry had one advantage for me over the Android. That is, you can set contact profiles with specific alerts so that even if the BB was set to silent, important alerts still sounded off. This allowed me to set the phone to silent when I was in a meeting or going to sleep without missing important calls. Then I installed two Android apps that made my personal smartphone more useful that the BB. 1. Touchdown - for processing Exchange messages - distinctive alerts, color coding, & multi alarms for a single calendar event. It is an excellent app. 2. Tasker - a configurable utility too flexible to describe here but as an example, I have configured it to silence all alarms when I am at work and my calendar indicates that I am in a meeting when the calendar tag = busy except for messages from certain VIP's. The combination of those two apps solved the burden of carrying two smartphones.

dcolbert
dcolbert

Being *reachable* 24x7 is one thing - and I'm OK with the basic principle of this idea for salaried employees. It is a given in IT. But if you send me an e-mail on Saturday at 11 PM and I don't respond to it until Monday at 8 AM, I don't see that as my fault. I may go an entire day, or an entire weekend without checking my corporate e-mail, if there isn't a special project going on I should be watching. That is where I think a lot of policies are vague - when they shouldn't be. I was at a place where a C-level employee lost his Motorola Windows phone a few years back. He was in Africa. Needless to say, a wipe command went out, but never reported that it had reached the phone. We now have a mandatory password/pin policy that is enforced. I think that is critical - and if you have to wait until something like this happens and then make an example of it, you *should*. It is a pain, and the C level guys do *hate* to have to enter 4 digits in before getting into their device. But the risk of not having it in place is too great. You should check out my Motorola Droid 4 review here on Tech Republic. They've got a utility on the Droid 4 (and undoubtedly on other Motorola phones) that allows you to set rules for incoming alerts (among other nifty tricks). You can mute all and exclude particular contacts that always alert through, set it by time, location and other criteria. http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/smartphones/smartphone-showdown-galaxy-nexus-vs-droid-4/4458?tag=content;siu-container I'm sure there are other similar apps in the Market - but this is my favorite app of this sort so far. Very intuitive, easy to set up, reliable.