'Berry bad work-life balance?

Despite their potential negative impact, using mobile devices helps increase productivity, CIOs say in a survey.
Written by Andy McCue, Contributor
BlackBerry devices and other smart phones may have had a huge impact on executive and employee productivity, but they also have a negative impact on work-life balance by making it more difficult to switch off from the office, according to a recent survey.

The study, conducted by BlackBerry maker Research In Motion, found that an average BlackBerry user converts one hour of downtime to productive time each day and increases overall team efficiency by 38 percent.

Each member of Silicon.com's 12-person CIO Jury IT user panel agreed that BlackBerry devices and smart phones have improved their productivity but warned that it can have a negative impact on work-life balance without judicious use of the off switch.

"Most mail can be dealt with through the BlackBerry, and it doesn't break your baggage allowance or back."
--Michael Elliot, IT director, Hasbro U.K.

"Improvement in productivity has been huge--the ability to respond immediately has been a real bonus for the company," said Kevin Fitzpatrick, chief information officer at food services provider Sodexho's U.K. operations. "Work-life balance swings dramatically to the company side of the scales."

Alan Shrimpton, IT director at Avon and Somerset Constabulary, said checking e-mail on his smart phone during offsite downtime helps him spend time in the office more efficiently.

"I can now use downtime--waiting to collect daughters, train journeys--to continue to read and action e-mails, which means I don't have a huge queue waiting for me when I'm next in the office," Shrimpton said. "It has, however, extended my working day."

For others, the ability to use mobile devices and check and respond to e-mail on the move reduces stress. Steve Gediking, head of IT and facilities at the Independent Police Complaints Commission, said his latest PDA has given him an efficiency gain of about half an hour a day using otherwise dead time.

"After a recent long weekend, I would normally have returned to around 150 e-mails," Gediking said. "Instead, I spent an hour on my PDA the night before I was due back into work, and the next morning, I walked in to only six mails that required attention. Not only did this make me more efficient, but it totally reduced my stress levels."

For one information technology professional, the BlackBerry has replaced the need to take a laptop for many work trips.

"I'm not sure about work-life balance, but my wife has a very strong opinion on that subject since I got (my BlackBerry)."
--Rob Neil, Ashford Borough Council

"I connect to files and e-mail on reaching affiliate offices or via the Internet," said Michael Elliot, IT director for the U.K. operations of toy maker Hasbro. "Most mail can be dealt with through the BlackBerry, and it doesn't break your baggage allowance or back."

Paul Haley, IT director at the University of Aberdeen, said, "Having used both a BlackBerry and Windows Mobile devices, I can honestly say that they have significantly improved the efficiency of myself and my colleagues. The technology both increases output by enabling what would otherwise be unproductive downtime to be used positively, and is liberating in that it allows flexibility and responsiveness. But the technology can be seductive and may lead to an 'always on' culture."

Most survey participants agreed that the productivity gains are worth any disapproving looks from partners at dinner parties, when still responding to work e-mails at midnight.

"The BlackBerry has definitely extended the capability of utilizing 'dead' time effectively--trains, taxis, 10-minute waits or answering questions like this," said Ric Francis, executive director of operations at the U.K. Post Office, responding to a CIO Jury question from his device. "The key is not to make it a way of life. Definitely a change for the better."

Sue Yoe, director of technology, information and facilities at banking payments body Apacs, said, "I use a BlackBerry but have a separate phone so that I can forget about work e-mails but still remain connected for emergencies."

Rob Neil, head of information and communication services, as well as customer services, at Ashford Borough Council, said, "I think my BlackBerry has definitely improved productivity. I'm not sure about work-life balance, but my wife has a very strong opinion on that subject since I got it."

One organization that has just given BlackBerry devices to its senior executives is IT recruitment job site Informatiq Consulting. The company's IT manager, Spencer Steel, said there was an initial reluctance to sit down and wade through e-mail on a daily basis, but the "elder cynics" are now converted.

"We are all benefiting from quicker response times to things that need actioning 'now,'" Steel said. "Communication between department managers is much quicker. The only problem I now foresee is the medical bill--key people are now walking the offices somewhat zombielike, transfixed to the screen and not paying much attention to anything else. I swear our (managing director) is going to trip over the photocopier soon--there's always hope."

Andy McCue of Silicon.com reported from London.

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