Work-life balance: is your smart phone tipping the scale?

By Susan Richter, Head of Content

On a recent sojourn to Normandy, a tiny village called Baudreville, I was struck by the isolation of the place, both in terms of its physical location and in the lack of any kind of 2G or 3G coverage. While the actual telephone signal was inconsistent at best, a little trip for a few hundred metres up the lane was required to use the internet. Despite my initial misgivings, a full week without access to the internet, satellite television, news headlines, Facebook updates, email and Tweet scouring, was actually amazing; a kind of big switch off.

As a PR writer in a technology environment I have researched, read and written a number of articles on the trends affecting the technology market, such as mobility, flexible working, and BYOD. With the advent of the smartphone we live in a culture that is, for want of a better term, always on. We are always connected, always available.  I thought a lot about this in my rustic French village.

If you look at something like BYOD, the school of thought on using your own device for work is simply that you will experience a higher level of satisfaction and enjoyment (and productivity) from using your personal device – PCs, laptops, smartphones, tablets – as opposed to using devices supplied by their employers. While you are reading this you might even realise that you are doing it already, using your iPhone for work because the company Blackberry keeps freezing, or taking your tablet to meetings to take notes.

From an employee perspective, the main danger of always being available is that the lines between work and personal are completely blurred and it is not easy to see where one begins and the other ends. You are always connected and switching off after hours or on weekends suddenly isn’t that easy. The temptation to “just check your mail” or “see if so-and-and-so replied” is ever present. And what happens when you don’t have access? Panic? Avoidance of no signal areas?

I recently read a blog in the Telegraph about the suicide of the CEO of Swisscom which alluded to the fact that he saw himself as a ‘victim of the smartphone and the always-on culture’. And while this may be a bit extreme, it does beg the question of where do you draw the line.

In all honesty I think that the line began to get blurred when we started using smartphones. It’s no longer a question of being in touch with work, but being constantly in touch with everyone – you’re able to exchange photos and messages effortlessly and in real-time with friends across the world, speak to them for a fraction of what it used to cost, and all from a small device in your palm.

Maybe we need to embrace the pros and cons and enjoy the convenience that “always-one” brings to our lives. And if, one day, you’ve have enough… there’s always the off button.