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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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 professional role is as a Linux support engineer for a fast-growing Linux/FOSS consultancy group. You can follow him @dcolbert on Twitter or his personal blog, located at http://donovancolbert.blogspot.com.