Blackberry Slaves

Are companies forcing their employees to become slaves to their email devices?

At some point in the future it’s not too hard to imagine that employees will be expected to not only have a cell phone in their possession at all time, but also the ability to send and receive email.  After all, the iPhone and Blackberry are taking over hosts of companies as we speak.

Executives like the idea of sending email back and forth with their employees at 11:00 pm if the need arises, making sure that the urgent business needs of the company are being met.  In these challenging economic times, it’s one of those things that is required to gain the extra edge over the competition.

It starts simply enough, I imagine.  A company buys internet-enabled PDA’s for its executives who become addicted to their use.  After a while, they provide units  for their subordinates, the better to keep in touch with a convenient email.  Employees welcome the devices with their powerful capabilities.

Some might resist them at first, but it’s easy to predict that anyone who is serious about their corporate career can’t afford to be left out of the loop on critical conversations that are happening in the odd hours outside of 9-5.

In the face of peer pressure, it’s not hard to imagine a time when every single employee (and certainly those is management) will be expected to have a device in their possession.  It’s likely to become as ubiquitous as the personal computer.

What’s disturbing is not that we’ll all have the convenience of 24 hour email access at our fingertips, but the likelihood that the poor time management habits displayed by today’s Blackberry users will become widespread.

Today’s users have used the device to unwittingly cement into place some habits that destroy their own productivity and that of those around them.  As the percentage of employees in a company increase, there is likely to be a couple of developments — the first is a user’s “bill of rights” and the second is a new set of habits that must be taught to users in order to prevent the device from ruining their efficiency.

A user’s “bill of rights” might take form of a set of policies in companies that discourage the use of the device to some pre-agreed standards of engagement.  At the moment, peer pressure is turning holidays, weekends and vacations into further opportunities to check email just before going to bed and right after waking up in the morning.

This is not just a matter of setting arbitrary rules.  Even a bill user’s bill or rights would have to be implemented for a reason — the behaviors undermine top  performance when they are  allowed to proliferate.  This and other facts related to personal productivity would need to be taught to employees at all levels, rather than simply legislated without justification.

The second development would be solid training in Time Management 2.0, in which users are guided in the development of their own time management systems.  They could use the opportunity to build a system of new habits that incorporates their internet device, and  doesn’t simply rely on old habits that don’t work with the new technology.

Current-day device users who have never taken this step are well  known for their poor time management habits.

Interruption Madness:  Today’s Blackberry and iPhone users are known for the ability to interrupt _anything_ to check email.  From bodily functions, to weddings, dates, funerals, legal proceedings, speeches, meetings, phone conversations, driving, cycling… apparently the only places to be safe from email-device users is when they are swimming or taking a shower!

Look for the Blackberry users in the crowd at the presidential inauguration in January, too busy to pay attention to what’s happening in front of them.

The Glazed Look of Half-Attention
The device users of today have become expert at the glazed look of half-attention.  They pretend to be listening to the what is happening in front of them, but their attention is on the device and on the message they are sending to a recipient miles away.

The Sheepish Smile
Now and again the user gets busted.   Confronted by another person who is on the receiving end of their poor manners, they wake with a jump out of their email induced stupor with either an excuse  – “I am listening!” – or an embarassed smile on their faces.  It’s only at that moment they realize that have switched off the person they were interacting with as one would change a television channel.

These are hardly the signs of greater productivity.  In today’s complex business environment what’s required is greater focus and in-depth thinking, not rather than an epidemic of casual attention, short-attention spans and and superficial dialogue.

This is where companies need to be quite careful.  Buying these devices for all staff may indeed increase the convenience of sending and receiving email, and there might be 1 or 2 emails per year that benefit from a 2:00am response.  However, a company that unwittingly multiplies today’s poor time management habits manyfold with the purchase of portable email devices will only do itself a great disservice.

The predicted loss in productivity can be prevented by giving everyone the chance to design their own time management system afresh, because the presence of the device in their lives simply requires it.