Tethered by Technology?

A handful of B&G Report readers speak out about the positives and negatives of devices that allow them to stay in touch with their work around the clock.
August 5, 2010 AT 3:00 AM
Businessman holding a PDA
Barrett and Greene
By Katherine Barrett & Richard Greene  |  Columnists
Government management experts. Their website is greenebarrett.com.

Recently, we asked B&G Report readers whether handheld technological devices make their jobs easier or more difficult.  Here are a few of the responses we received.

"Early in my career I went through an experience that shaped how I now work. I was a controller for a financial institution. When I first started there the problems were significant and we worked fairly long hours, including Saturdays, to clean things up. Eventually we reached an equilibrium point as far as the problems went, but the work hours continued. One Saturday, my wife called me at the office challenging me on why I found it necessary to work 6 days a week. I realized I had no good answer for her. Deciding that my marriage was more important than my career, I never worked another Saturday again. I was ribbed about it at first, but that eventually died off and it ceased as an issue. My current employment has required me to work weekends or nights on occasion, but only for specific purposes and never as a steady diet. I learned from this experience that (1) work needs to have a purpose and (2) I must establish my own personal boundaries.

"I believe this is applicable to my stance regarding technology. For the longest time I never gave my cell phone number to anyone except close relations. That has changed since cell phones are now so ubiquitous, but at the time it was a boundary I set to protect myself. I have resisted a Blackberry to this point because I see how easy it is to become chained to them; again, I set that boundary myself. I have a laptop. I work from home two days a week. I shut down around dinner time every night I work at home and do not get into my email until the next morning. As a rule, I will not check emails on Saturday or Sunday without a compelling business reason. Some may say that anything can become a "compelling business reason", but I disagree. Whether it is work hours or technology, I have to set my boundaries. If they do not agree with my employer's, well then I have a decision to make. But the bottom line for me is I am the only one who can and must determine just how far I am willing to go."

— Wayne Sommer, director of strategic initiatives, ICMA

"I just purchased a Blackberry on 6/1/10, with my own money, to facilitate my work flow.

"Yes, since receiving the shiny new toy, I can access all email and receive important calls on the spot. Items of urgency do not wait for my return to the office any longer, and I can clear email from home, even on the weekend.

"On the flip side, it is now expected that I can respond to intense client interactions or downed servers within minutes, where it was previously understood that I would respond when I saw an email or cleared my voice mail at my desk. Such response is not always possible, especially when in a meeting that is even more critical than the issue for which I am contacted. The pressure has certainly increased *exponentially* — not arithmetically, or as a multiplication.

"Anecdotally, the insanity of my "instant availability" became most obvious when my minor daughter had a wisdom tooth pulled on 6/28. Staff was notified that I should not be considered available that day. Yet, I was receiving calls from one nervous worker — literally as I was walking her into the oral surgeon's office — to have him call again, while I was trying to get her Vicodin filled at the other end of the procedure. He was hardly the only one in touch. The BB never stopped buzzing, that day."

— Mary Tramonti, assistant administrator, Rhode Island Works program

"I would say that electronic 24-7 depends on your boss. If your boss ... is someone who is a workaholic and likes to call to discuss work at all hours, then yes, the cell phones, Blackberries, etc can be bothersome. However, if they are not, and can separate their work life from home life, then productivity has risen because of all these devices, and they are a plus. Desktop computers, land lines and voicemail are still quite effective and where most of the electronic communication gets done."

— Maurice F. Daly, P.E., engineering division chief, city of Alexandria, Va.

"For me, personally, having a Blackberry and remote computer access to files and emails allows me to catch up on work at home or when on the road, when convenient for me. I like that. I'm not sure my wife would share that feeling, however.

"The down-side is there now is a growing expectation of immediate response to a question, no matter the time of day submitted. I see that inside the organization, and am starting to see that from the citizens at large as well. Can a public employee become too accessible?

"For my staff, particularly those involved in our 24/7 building operations, Blackberries have greatly improved not only productivity, but also communication. They also have aided in getting the right people to a scene of major trouble much faster and more efficiently. Finally I've seen a number of cases where with Blackberries we've been able to route media queries almost immediately to the correct person, which helps the media get the complete story, and serves the public as well by insuring our message is delivered promptly.

— John Updike, assistant director of real estate, city and county of San Francisco