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Constant contact - What is the reality?

How we work and communicate has changed radically in recent years, with significant numbers across society, including within the project management profession, now using devices that mean we can be in contact and carrying out work and other activities, 24/7, instantly and unrelentingly.

Recent research by the CMI  states;

Of the 76% of managers who can use devices including smartphones, laptops or tablets to work, almost half (49%) check their emails just before going to sleep at night and a quarter (24%) check them again on waking before they get out of bed in the morning.

Earlier this month a news story described a society addicted to behaviour of checking phones and devices - regardless of other activities and company.  And in the last few days the indication that the riots in the UK were linked to the use of instant messaging  to spread information and incite violence.  

But is there an even more insidious impact that touches all of us who manage staff and are in employment ourselves.  What is the effect of this new and accepted way of behaving, on individuals, for organisations and for successful project delivery?  For instance:

  • What are the implications for project delivery, in a world where there are blurred boundaries between work and non work environments?  
  • What do we need to do to be able to effectively manage and communicate with staff and colleagues who inhabit both work and non-work worlds simultaneously?  For example the impact of omnipresent media during the working day keeping us informed of breaking news, or distracting us from our working contract?
  • What are the risks to our well-being of not being able to switch off, or maybe more concerning, of being expected NOT to switch off from our work commitments?  

Just a thought while we may still have a chance to recognise what is happening, and maybe take action, before its too late.

3 comments

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  1. Andrew Nichols
    Andrew Nichols 29 September 2011, 12:37 PM

    Alastair,I have this book, a very good read. It also touches on the use and impact of social media sites as well as mobile communication devices.A good recommended read.Andy

  2. Andrew Nichols
    Andrew Nichols 23 August 2011, 10:34 AM

    Jane,An interesting subject indeed. I think there is no black and white yes/no answer for this question as to whether it is right or as to the impact it has.I think the key with all things in life is moderation, and this is no exception. I whole heartedly agree that mobile technology and communication devices have aided project working enourmously. I can think of several instances where I have contacted people, and visa-versa, for urgent answers on critical matters and mobile technology has been instrumental in success (or should I say avoiding disaster!).However, the problem really lies in how we use the technology. I am one of those individuals who has 2 mobile phones, one for home, one for work and this helps me enourmously. When the day is done I turn off the work 'phone and leave it on the side board not to be switched on until I get to work. One or two key individuals have my home contact/mobile numbers should a black swan of critical nature arrive. Everything else can wait till I am on work time again.The danger lies, in losing the home-work balance when these devices are left on (especially if not silent) with working now spread globally, it's always work time for somebody and the temptation is to carry on 'working'. I use the term 'working' loosely because there is much more to PM than chasing email chains. It's a useful tool, but that's all.I should perhaps let my wife add to this blog as to the implications of not switching off from work, but on a  more serious note I find some of my best ideas for work come when I am not thinking about it and I am doing 'normal' domestic activities. Time away from work is just as critical as time at work. I've seen a few 'company men' burn themselves out on project by working all the time, when actually a break would have been more beneficial.Andy  

  3. Alastair Smart
    Alastair Smart 21 August 2011, 09:17 PM

    I think this is a very interesting topic. A agree that paradoxically as organisations (including project teams) seek to enable their staff to work more flexibly to improve performance and delivery, there is a potential that things like laptops and mobile phones provide the possibility for constant contact and risk blurring the lines of a healthy work/life balance.It is also possible that different ways of working can have an impact on team dynamics and culture.  For example if somebody is getting in touch with you at all hours of the day and night you might assume that they are putting in 18 hour days and feel pressure to perform similarly, perhaps without being aware that maybe they take afternoons off or spend time on multiple commitments during the same period. In a newspaper last weekend I came across a book review of Works Intimacy which is a study by Australian academic Melissa Gregg due to be published in the UK next month. The book has been described (on politybooks.com) as a long overdue account of technology and its impact on the work and lifestyles of professional employees.  It looks like this text may provide some key insights to understanding the shift to devices that give us the freedom to work where we want, when we want, [when] little attention has been paid to the consequences.