The Telegraph has highlighted recent research suggesting that smartphone and tablet users add two hours to their working day. Apparently as many as nine out of ten office workers are now able to access their emails on their phones and two-thirds of us check our emails before we go to bed and again when we wake up in the morning. Weekends and holidays are also increasingly interrupted by work related phone calls and emails. In addition to the use of smart phones and tablets, most organisations now also have virtual desktops set up enabling employees to log in, access files and systems and work from any location at any time.
Clearly this ability to work on the go offers great advantages to organisations. If employees have already cleared their inboxes and responded to straightforward emails in their own time, they will reach their desks ready to get down to more productive or complex tasks. It also offers greater flexibility to us as employees to know that we have the ability to communicate outside of the office if, for example, we are running late, delayed at meetings or need to attend to personal matters during the working day. It can also be less stressful to know in advance what is coming our way at the start of day rather than walking in to a crisis at 9 o’clock.
However, there are also downsides to this method of virtual working. How much do we actually absorb and digest when we are reading emails on the run and furthermore, is the quality of our outgoing communication always as professional as it should be when sent from a handheld device?
There seems to be a growing culture of constant availability in many organisations. It is no longer a question of who stays latest in the office but who responds to emails quickest and latest and who is seen to be on line during evenings and weekends. And this constant availability increases expectations; as soon as we receive a request or question by email we feel the need to respond immediately often without giving it the time and focus to construct a thoughtful and appropriate response. It has been suggested in other studies that this constant checking and fiddling with gadgets is actually affecting users’ ability to concentrate and focus and this could cause a much greater and more long term impact on productivity than gaining an extra hour or two every day for reading and replying to emails.
Smart phones can be a great asset and few of us would want to return to the days without them but we need to be careful that they don’t take over our lives and remove our ability to focus on other, often more important, things.