Management Panel The New Normal: At Work 24/7
Jim Allen, AMM, Mississippi Power, sets the scene…
Something happened the other day while I thought I was on vacation.
My business phone rang; it was the CEO. My favorite pastime is quail hunting and my favorite quail hunting ground is a small patch of open field in the little community called Jayess, Mississippi. I’ve gone quail hunting since 2002 and for most of that time my hunts have been quite peaceful, due to inadequate cell phone coverage. It has only been since 2010 has a trickle of cell service invaded the privacy in my honey-hole.
Quail hunting is unlike most any other hunting sport. Yes, there is a bit of excitement when you make the impossible shot or bag 10 birds with 10 shots, but the greatest enjoyment comes from watching the dogs point. The guide I hunt with has a half-dozen bird dogs, all of different pedigree. On this particular occasion, Jaycee, Wayne’s English Pointer, was frozen stiff in mid-stride pointing a covey and Foxy, Wayne’s Brittnay, was a couple feet away with her nose stuck in a small clump of grass. Their point was an artist’s dream. Wayne held the hunters back a few seconds to allow all of us to marvel at what seemed like a Dutch Master’s painting. Everything was motionless, and we were all lost in the moment.
Then the iPhone rang.
From that moment on, quail hunting hasn’t been quite the same.
Most members agree that connectivity has changed expectations.
Arlen Gutenberg, AMM, Mayo Clinic, Scottsdale:
There can be little question that with the advent of smart phones and devices like the iPad, the virtual workplace has become a 24/7 proposition. Business email traffic is no longer limited to a nine-to-five timeframe. The potential to get more accomplished is greater than ever before. But at what cost? At what point does the 24/7 proposition become a detriment to the proper work/ life balance?
Marv Mitchell, AMM, Mayo Clinic, Rochester:
I work very hard at keeping my personal life separate in off hours, but it IS harder to balance work and personal life when the tools we use seamlessly blend the two. My iPhone and my iPad display work and personal email on the same screen. I have to make a concerted effort to turn off my work email when I’m on vacation or at family events. It’s a bit unique at Mayo Clinic in Rochester because of the small size of the external environment. Mayo in Rochester is 35,000 employees out of a population base of just over 100,000 people. The people you work with are also the people at church, or at school events or at the grocery store.
Many of my co-workers are also friends or followers on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc., so even if you don’t want to see things about work it’s almost impossible to avoid it.
Josh Bayer, Mine Safety Appliances:
In my humble opinion, constant connectivity is a bad thing. It increases stress by large factors. Some may say I get stressed if I can't answer that important email...to that I say, what happens if you fall down your steps and are in the hospital? You're not answering and the world goes on. Same thing with voluntarily not answering—you'll either get a phone call or somebody else will make a decision. No matter who we are, the world will get by without us if something unfortunate happens. So it should be with our connectivity issues.
Warren Harmon, AMM, Mayo Clinic:
I definitely feel the 24/7 connectivity to work, especially with the multiple time zones I'm connected to now, and the technology that seems to never stop alerting you to texts, emails and prompts of one kind or another.
I have the habit of keeping my iPhone on and available through 8:00 PM every day...I don't want to do this, but I feel I need to. I check my emails first thing in the morning, and respond as needed. I occasionally look at notes over the weekend, but choose what to answer and when. In some ways, constant connectivity is necessary, but if you pour yourself into the work 24/7, you will become less effective. For example, over this past weekend, I had just arrived home from a week-long trip to our AZ and FL sites, and I was exhausted. A few work issues were not resolved during that week, so I spent a good part of Saturday working on them. As a result, I completely missed another personal obligation. My mind could not be in two places at once.
Kenneth Boyd, AMM:
It has become a bad thing to be connected to the office 24/7. Some managers have lost their common understanding that you do have a life. I used to keep my cell phone on at all times and be available. However, I did plan/schedule family time and if I was out with family I would listen to the message and determine if it required an immediate reply. If it did not, I would text the manager back. Recently it is my understanding that Brazil is in court deciding that if your office calls you on the weekend for work, that whatever you do would constitute overtime. Wonder how managers would feel if that practice was started here in the States…
Kristin Johnson, Best Buy:
The new normal expectation is that “I am always connected”. I think this is both positive and negative. It is good because I am able to quickly deal with urgent problems but bad because it is difficult to unplug and have down time.
To be honest, on a certain level I like the idea that I have the option to be continuously connected. Questions get answered more quickly, decisions are made more expeditiously, and problems are solved more rapidly. I would rather connect on a weekend to work out an issue than fret or struggle with a problem until Monday rolls around. Connecting with the office on off-hours is my choice and I am generally not under any obligation to do so. But there is a price that’s paid. Fatigue and burn-out set in and there are times when keeping up with the work is counterproductive.
MaryBeth Erickson, Novartis
Our situation here at Novartis is a bit different. Since we are contractors we are not able to have Blackberrys so technically, I am not connected to the department when I am out of the office if I do not bring home my laptop. The same applies for my full time production team of four.
We have one Novartis employee that oversees the department at a higher level and he has a Blackberry. If he gets an email about an emergency he will call one of us and we will spring into action.
If we are in the middle of a high end production with tight deadlines etc, we are sure to give our cell phone numbers to our main client in case of emergency, and to take our laptops home to check occasionally. We also give our clients a crew contact sheet the night before a shoot or production so they have everyone’s contact information involved in the production.
John Forte, Cummins, on the other hand, doesn’t think much has changed:
If there ever was an "old normal", I don't really know what it was. At each step, as technology increased our availability, when did we not respond? Before instant messaging, before voice mail, before e-mail, who truly said," the day is done and I'm off the clock"? Sure, there were times you didn't take a call because you were tied up with family business. But, in an environment where service is king, and not being responsive is a mark against your competitiveness, the notion that somehow you turned off the phone at 5:00 pm is more reflective of a poor service provider than one who excels.
Kevin Campbell, AMM, Dow Corning Corporation
I personally carry a pager and two smartphones, one personal and one for business, and I usually have access to a computer most of the time. So you could say I am well connected as are most of us in media.
I don’t think I can recall a time in my career when 24x7 availability wasn’t part of my job. The difference today it that we have tools which speed the connectivity and facilitate a rapid response. I still get calls at home on occasion but more commonly get an email to my smartphone. It’s the instantaneous connection that has changed.
Kathe Leyman-Meyer, St. Mary’s University, warns us of the risks of responding to text messages and emails on our ability to concentrate, and she has some ideas for improving productivity.
Research suggests that each text message we get takes our brain 20 minutes to rest to the concentration level we had before the interruption. Also, a Harvard researcher has found a significant increase in adult on-set ADD, which is attributed to the constant need to multi-task.
Many corporate professional development programs are now using the focus of Jon Cabet-Zinn which is, "Be Here Now". This encourages tackling one problem/project/task at a time.
Tricks for improving productivity, or slowing down/controlling multitasking include:
Use the timer on your computer to allow for reminders of time spent on task.
Text peers/boss before entering a time of concentration… I'm going to be focused on XYZ for the next two hours and may be delayed in returning e-mail or your texts.
Limit e-mail/text/facebook to 5 minutes per hour. • Take manual notes complete with doodles or use a stylus on computer/phone/tablet to take notes so doodling is accessible. Research suggests that doodling allows the brain to process information.
Take the stairs, walk, elevate your heart rate for 5 minutes after a period of multi-tasking to encourage the brain to re-focus.
Use essential oils that promote concentration. They reach the olfactory nerve in the brain immediately, and have the same effect on concentration that ADD medication does.
Get off all computer devices 20 minutes before getting into bed. Eliminate caffeine, since it stimulates the brain. Put your phone face down in bedroom, turn off all lights and black-out/cover the blue light on the cable/dsl line in the bedroom—all known to increase anxiety by interrupting sleep.
Many panel members think managers can choose to disconnect without impacting their job performance.
Tom Densmore, AMM, Q Center:
I think the key is to avoid starting behaviors that you're not willing to sustain. If you start responding to emails at 9pm every night because it's convenient, your clients will quickly pick up on that behavior pattern and expect late evening responses to their emails. If you tell your staff "I'm on vacation and won't be reachable" but then occasionally respond to an email message using your smart phone, your staff learns that you plan to always be reachable. (And may assume that you expect them to be as well)
I'm very protective of my personal cell phone number with clients, and if I'm on vacation I set up an extended absence message to let clients know who to contact, and then let that person be the gatekeeper who decides if I really need to be called or they can handle the issue without me. Certainly there are times when I have to make myself more available to meet the demands of a specific project, but more often than not the perceived virtue of being available 24/7 is just a safety net for clients with poor time management skills, and for me the personal cost isn't worth it.
Ramiro Banderas, Rollins, Inc:
I try to check out starting Friday at 5:00pm until Sunday night (I'll glance at my calendar an emails Sunday evening to prepare for the week). I consider the weekend my own time and will go to extremes not to let work interfere. I can't seem to be able to disconnect too much during the week so I draw the line Saturday and Sunday.
I also really check out from the world by going diving two or three times a year. Nothing can reach you on a boat or under water off some exotic island, and that gives me the energy I need to recharge my batteries. I think constant connectivity is a good thing, if you love what you do, but even then you should drive it and not the other way around. The Harvard Business Review on Work and Life Balance is a good book on the subject and it points out we should not manage people by making work and personal lives compete, but rather thrive together.
I have had to adopt a rule that unless something is on fire, I leave it for the next work day. You can drive yourself (and your team) crazy if you are constantly responding to minor issues all hours of the day or night. The leader has to set the tone. If you model a positive work life balance, your staff will reflect it back. If you are “on” 24X7 your team will feel they must as well, and your work becomes a constant distraction from your personal life, and as we all know, that can affect your health and well-being and that of your family.
I consciously disconnect. During the work week I quit checking emails on my Blackberry around 7 PM. I even switch the ringer to phone calls only. My thought being if its a big enough emergency, somebody will call me if they don't get an email response. (and it keeps the dog from barking at the buzzing sound)
It's the same for weekends. I check emails ONCE on Saturday, usually mid morning—and not at all on Sunday. Again, the ringer is on phone calls only. No Pavlovian response on my part for email notification that way.
Lastly, MSA has instituted a "no cell phone use for anything at all while driving" policy if driving a company vehicle and/or using a company issued cell phone. Which, while possibly limiting some productivity, is actually a relief not having to answer the damn thing while driving. (The National Safety Council has done studies and has quantifiable data as to how the brain works while using a cell phone and driving. It is absolutely frightening. Nobody should do those two things at the same time...ever.)
As an adjunct professor at a local University, teaching a course online from my home office means I have additional connectivity management, thus a second smartphone. My students are of the generation of what are called the communicators. This is the generation that thinks nothing of texting, Twittering and Facebooking at the drop of a hat. I have had students call me at midnight thinking nothing of it. Their expectation is that I am available anytime. I have found the best way to handle this is manage their expectations (i.e. set boundaries). They can contact me via phone up to 10 pm in the evening. If they send an email they get a response within 24 hours; usually I respond within a few hours. I have found this has been very effective in managing this part of my life work balance.
Since our company is now changing our vacation policy to a “use it or lose it” scenario I am going to try a new method for my PTO days. I am periodically going to take Fridays off and enjoy a long weekend. Some issues might be less urgent if people know they only need to wait one business day to hear back from me versus being out all week. I think this is my best chance to have a short non-working vacation.
Ed Korlesky, Marshfield Clinic
I have resisted the urge to connect my internal voice mail, and e-mail to my home PC or smart phone although the technology is available to me. I do carry a pager in the building as we don't have good cell coverage in many parts of our buildings. My staff and my division administrator do have my cell phone number and I tend to leave my pager on when I go home. So I don’t actively work or check in from home or when away but in a critical emergency key people know how to find me.
I strongly believe that if you properly train and empower your staff to do their jobs you don’t have to watch over them. They can make most decisions. If I did my job correctly the department should run without me for a few days.
I believe there needs to be a balance. I'm striving for no work email on Sundays and after 8:00 during the weekdays. Also, I am trying not to be distracted during the day while in meetings by "tuning out" from the meeting to check emails or texts. Call me old-fashioned, but that's just plain rude!
Bill Wimsett, AMM, Mayo Clinic
I do disconnect every weekday when I leave the office, and I rarely check email or voicemail in the evenings or on weekends. When I'm on vacation, my voice mail and email have messages indicating I won't be checking them until I return and have information on how to refer their question or concern.
Mandel Samuels, University of Arkansas
Technically I am on call 24 hours a day due to the uplink services we offer. All of my staff, including me, carry a pager. I know that’s old school but it is cost effective for us. Of course I have the pager during the work day. In the evenings, I will typically leave the pager at home when I leave the house. If I am expecting a call I will carry it with me.
When I attend church on Sunday’s, I leave my pager at home and my cell phone in the car. I don’t have a university cell phone. I carry my personal cell phone. However, that number is given to a limited number of people with the understanding that it is not to be used unless you absolutely, positively must get in touch with me for an important reason. Additionally, they must understand that I may or may not answer the phone.
As an example, a few weeks ago I received a call while I was driving home for the day. I responded to the call when I got home. It was from one of the networks who wanted to hire us for an uplink. I worked for another two hours or so to get everything set-up. It was my decision to return the call. I did not feel an obligation. For the most part, the connectivity doesn’t really bother me. I just try to manage the expectation that I am always at work.
Greg Ganger, The Kroger Company
I have my cell phone with me, but turn if off when I go to bed or while having dinner. I do return calls as soon as I turn the phone back on.
When I go home in the evening the pager and office phone get parked in a charging station. I don’t jump to respond to every message. If I am going out they don’t go with me unless I am on call or I we are working on something that I have to be available for. I don’t think high levels of connectivity are a necessarily bad. But it’s a balance you have to manage based on the situation. Yes, there are times when I am disconnected and unavailable.
In order to provide some respite I have created some self-imposed rules. Two weekends out of the month the iPhone and iPad remain off, as far as business email is concerned. And in the evening during the week, I will look at email but will not respond until at the office the next day. And I will not deal with work at all while on vacation. So in my case, like many things in life, the key to a proper work/life balance is self discipline; the discipline at turn away from work when appropriate. And wonders of wonders, the wheels of industry still seem to keep on turning.
As for unplugging for vacation…
I make sure my staff and I have a production meeting every week—and an additional meeting before one of us is going away. At that time, the group is informed of projects in progress, pending issues, etc. Projects are assigned out accordingly, so that the person leaving for vacation or a day, is leaving with a clean slate, and their projects are being managed. Coming back in after vacation we do the same thing with a project update and hand back if needed.
Everyone puts an out of office message on their phone and on email that gives a main point of contact in their absence, so clients never feel as if they are left without help.
At that point, we unplug completely from the office, and the people left behind know to only call the person that is out in a dire emergency.
So far, for the past three years, this has worked out great. We have never had any complaints about being unresponsive from clients. Additionally, I think for the most part my staff feels they have a good work life balance.
Additionally, we are open from 8-6 during normal business hours. So, we stagger our shifts to accommodate our commuting challenges as well as our projects. People are happy with this flexibility. Of course, being in production there are always some days with crazy hours, but I think that because we work so hard to keep work life balanced, when that happens people don’t seem to mind.
I also encourage my staff to block out time on their calendars to get caught up on paperwork etc. if needed. That way, they can have some meeting free time during the week and not feel buried under administrative tasks.
Chris Barry, AMM, Best Buy
I have a completely flexible work approach thanks to my phone and wireless laptop. When I don’t have physical meetings or a need to be around for my staff, I can work anywhere, at any time. Most of the time I can balance work and home this way – staying plugged in as necessary, but having the ability to turn off work at crucial times like dinner, early evening and family outings and whatnot. Sometimes work forces its way in at home, but for every time that happens, my ability to schedule in family needs during work time makes up for it.
We’ll let Jim Allen have the last word before he returns to hunting quail:
Several months ago, one of our younger VPs put me onto something that has helped me regain personal time without missing important emails.
I’ve always carried 2 phones: my business phone, an iPhone with full data cell service, and my personal phone, a no frills, tiny cell phone I keep in my front pocket. My personal phone is the basic of basics. I can talk and text. It is so basic it doesn’t send or receive data/media files in the text— only numbers and letters. The VP told me of a way to write an Outlook rule that would automatically text to a cell phone. In the rule, you choose the conditions that, when met, automatically sends the text. My Outlook rule states that any time certain people send me an email, the email is to be forwarded to my personal cell phone as a text. All I have to do is keep the rule restricted to the most important people.
This gives me the freedom to set my iPhone aside at night and on vacation without worrying that I’m missing something important. The iPhone is always near (like in my truck, a ½ mile away from the quail) and I no longer worry. I know if executives need attention, I will be alerted. For everyone else, they know I’ll get back to them when I return.
My honey-hole will probably never be as quiet as before, but now I have peace of mind and can concentrate once more on Jaycee’s and Foxy’s points.