It is not stretch to say that mobile phones have transformed the world we live in. The ability to talk on the move has been a revolution in communication bigger than anything since telephony itself was first invented. It is hard to even imagine what a world without text messaging was like.
And that, of course, was all before the smartphone came along. Mobile technology is no longer simply about communication, but about full-time connectivity to the rest of the digital world.
As empowering as carrying around the 21st century equivalent of Swiss Army Knife, a tool for all functions, has been for most people, there are drawbacks. We have written before on these pages about the erosion of the line between working life and personal life, highlighting some of the disadvantages things like remote and home working bring. Now we feel it is time to focus on the role of the mobile phone in all of this – or more specifically, how they have changed people’s expectations about your availability.
Let’s start with the company mobile. As with laptops, handing out phones to employees is now commonplace. In certain professions and for certain job roles, they are more or less seen as essential tools for the job. Some companies will also present the offer of a company mobile as a perk of the job.
But when you gratefully accept that nice shiny new smartphone from your employer, you might just be taking more than you bargained for. For many companies, handing out company phones carries the unspoken assumption that you will be available at all times. You might think it is a convenient way to keep lines of communication open during office hours when you are out and about between meetings and clients. But for your bosses, the real value of giving you a smartphone is they know how to get hold of you 24/7.
Without realising it, you are effectively on call permanently. Without any extra out-of-hours remuneration.
When always-on become personal
It is one thing when that happens with a company phone. But your own mobile is also the perfect portal for work to start to sneak into your home life. With smartphones, it is the fact that there are just so many ways to get hold of you. It need not be a case of your boss ringing you up on weekends asking you where you sourced those figures in your latest report. It could be email, WhatsApp, colleagues messaging you on Facebook or Twitter about work-related matters.
The risk is that this is creating a culture of always-on availability. We all know those people who respond to work emails as they lie in bed at 11pm, or who like to ‘catch up’ with a bit of work at the weekends and message colleagues to see if they’re doing the same. Once one person does it, it sets a standard. Bosses start to ask why everyone is not showing that kind of commitment.
The great appeal of mobile technology for many people is always-on connectivity. But when you have work WhatsApp groups, or collaboration apps downloaded on your device, or you’re simply always logged into your email account, it means you are always connected to work, too. And the assumption is, if you’re connected, you’re available.
If this kind of breakdown in the divide between work and home life troubles you, if you don’t want to be getting IM’d at 10.45pm and then get a frosty query the next morning about why you didn’t answer, then you have a decision to make. Your own mobile phone is for your convenience, not theirs. And if you have a company phone for work, then that is what it is for – work. Out of hours, just switch it off.