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Complexities of navigating the new digital-disconnect imperative

The way we work, and how we stay connected to our tasks, has changed dramatically over the past couple of decades. The office follows us everywhere.

The way we work, and how we stay connected to our tasks, has changed dramatically over the past couple of decades. The office follows us everywhere. Email addresses are created with our names and remain attached to those names long after we’ve decided to switch jobs or careers. Our employers provide us with smartphones and laptops so we can work whenever, and wherever, we are required.

There are some generational differences in the relationship between employer and employee. For most millennials, the thought of starting a job without a company-issued device (or at least having the benefit of an employer paying the cost of the one they own) is inconceivable. It was a transition that members of generation X and baby boomers had to experience as technology evolved and became more attainable for businesses of all sizes.

The connection to the office can also lead to personal problems. Last year, a survey I conducted found that 56% of Canadians employed full-time acknowledged that work was taking precedence over lifestyle. And 82% of them wanted to have a law similar to one currently in place in France, where companies with more than 50 employees are compelled to allow workers “the right to disconnect.”

This means establishing specific hours (on evenings and weekends) when staff should not send or answer emails.

Fine, we want to disconnect from the office. But are we connected to the office only during work when we peer through our company-issued or company-funded smartphones? The answer is no.

A Research Co. survey conducted this year shows that virtually every Canadian who is employed full time and has a smartphone that his or her company is paying for is using an instant messaging service during work hours. Oddly enough, the most popular instant messaging platform is
Facebook Messenger, relied upon by 83% of respondents.

Skype and the messenger tools included in Apple, Samsung or Google smartphones are tied for second place (62% each), followed by LinkedIn Messaging and Twitter Direct Messages (57% each) and WhatsApp (49%). Significantly fewer respondents rely on Windows Live Messenger (33%) and BlackBerry Messenger (16%).

When we asked these employed Canadians how they are spending their time at work messaging on the devices that their employers gave them, the results are a bit shocking. On average, respondents say that 65% of the time they spend on instant messaging platforms during work hours, they are interacting with family and friends for fun.

This means that just over a third of the time instant messaging occurs at work (35%) is used, on company-issued smartphones, on interacting with colleagues for work-related tasks.

There are, as always, some quirky differences in the way generations and regions are messaging while at work. In spite of the criticism levelled against younger generations, baby boomers are more likely to use their company-issued smartphone for fun and not work (68%) than are members of generation X and millennials (62% for each).

Across the country, Atlantic Canadians are ahead of every other region on using company-issued devices for fun while at work (69%), followed by residents of Saskatchewan and Manitoba (67%). Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia all came in at 65%, while Albertans appear to be the most industrious (63%).

There is also an interesting correlation when it comes to household income. Canadian employees in the lowest income bracket spend less time messaging on work-related tasks (31%) than those in the middle and highest brackets (36% and 40%, respectively).

In the early days of company-funded mobile connectivity, the calls were quick and to the point. Rarely would a conversation have taken place between family members, unless it amounted to an emergency. But as the price of data access has dropped across the country, so has the propensity of employees to become distracted and partake in activities that are not related to their work, particularly with how easy it has become to text anyone, anywhere.

There is no easy solution for the situation that the survey delineates, and the effect that the large numbers of non-work-related text messages may have on productivity definitely requires further study. Still, one in four Canadians with a company-issued smartphone sent a message to the wrong person or group over the past year, including 36% of millennials. Let’s just hope the message was not “for fun” and sent to a cranky supervisor. •

Mario Canseco is the president of Research Co.