A lot is said of the need to maintain a good work/life balance. The company I work for has a strong ethic around making sure that people maintain a good balance, unlike just about any other company I’d previously worked for. Overall, Australia suffers an epidemic of work/life balance challenges, being one of the worst offenders in the OECD in terms of unpaid overtime, etc. For instance, from the ABC in August 2010:
The fourth Australian Work and Life Index reveals the number of full-time workers who are dissatisfied with their situation has increased in the past three years.
More than one-fifth of Australians spend 48 hours or more at work each week, and 60 per cent do not take regular holidays.
Three-quarters of people working long hours say they would rather work fewer hours despite the drop in pay.
It’s a sorry situation. Entire industries are centred around screwing people not only out of additional money, but out of their work/life balance. The IT industry even has a term for it, particularly in low level/junior service delivery jobs – it’s called “churn and burn“. The notion is a horrendous yet simple one: between travel, admin and weekend work, have a salaried person work 60+ hour weeks consistently. It’s free money for the company, and the “real” workers will sort themselves out. I was a manager in a “churn and burn” company, and I certainly wasn’t immune to it myself. By the time the company collapsed I’d been doing 70-80 hour weeks for 2+ years.
These days to any company that practices churn and burn, I say one thing: fuck you.
However, I’m not here to talk about the loathsome practice that is churn and burn; instead, something blatantly lacking in smart phones: a work/life balance.
Unions (remember those things?) are starting to go ape-shit about smart phones. Having never worked in an industry with a real union presence, I find unions a quaint notion, but they do have a point: smart phones mean that staff become more available to work.
Smart phones, you see, aren’t smart enough. I’m not sure many businesses would actually want them to be smarter, either. It’s a pity – a sufficiently smart enough smart phone would actually allow for a much better work-life balance. Here’s what’s actually needed:
- Modes of operation – literally a selection within the settings of the phone:
- Normal – for “regular” life.
- Holiday – for when you’re on a real, honest to goodness holiday.
- Cloaked – for sick leave, bereavement leave, etc.
- Work days/hours – define at least 3 types of hours/days:
- Work hours – when you’re definitely at work or meant to be at work in “normal” mode.
- Shadow hours – when you’re not at work, but you don’t mind getting work interrupts.
- Offline hours – when you’re not at work and you don’t want to be disturbed.
- Tiered access – groups of contacts, but with special significance:
- Friends/family – as you’d expect
- Unknown – caller ID blocked, or unknown numbers
- Work regular – standard people from work
- Work critical – very important people from work
Once you’ve got those concepts in place, smart phones could truly become smart. Here’s a quick run-down:
- When in “holiday” mode, regardless of time or day, the only work calls your phone would take would be from “work critical” contacts.
- When in “cloaked” mode, your phone wouldn’t take any calls from work contacts at all.
- Even in “normal” mode, during “offline hours” your phone would only let through work calls from “work critical” contacts.
- Optionally, “Unknown” contacts would receive the same treatment as the above.
- Work alarms (you know, those pesky calendar entries) would not go off:
- while in holiday mode or cloaked mode.
- while in offline times.
- Unless you explicitly go to the work account in email, your phone would stop checking work email:
- In offline times.
- When in holiday/cloak mode.
- Similarly to the above, SMS’s from work contacts would be received, but there’d be no vibrate/sound alert.
Now, a bunch of the items above could be manually achieved – but the fundamental question is: if the smart phone is smart, why isn’t the “I’m not at work” process smart? In the above scenario, people who didn’t mind work interrupts outside of hours could choose not to go into “holiday” or “cloaked” modes, and could set the work/shadow/offline hours appropriately.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating this because I’m personally being pestered in my current job. (On the other hand, the number of “got a minute?” SMSs that I got from a director in my former job was enough that, 5 years on, I still hate that question.) However, I do think that smart phones, regardless of protestations about enabling a healthy work/life balance, represent considerable danger of exactly the opposite, particularly to salaried employees in most companies. The best way to safe guard is to build the notion of holidays and other reduced-contact periods directly into the operating system of the phones.
Then they’d really be smart.