Turn off your cellular phone, I dare you

Does this sound familiar? You’re a project manager and you’ve been working around the clock trying to meet a deadline. Friday comes, the end of a hectic week, so you decide to leave the office at a somewhat normal hour. You’ve hardly made it to your car, and started the engine before your pager starts beeping. You pick up your cell phone – no need to turn it on because lately, it’s never off – and return the call. Something has gone wrong with the project and you are needed. You turn your car around, and head back to the office.

This sort of scenario is becoming more and more common as people have the means to constantly be connected, and therefore feel the need to do so. And most of the time, in this crazy and hectic industry in which we work, it’s warranted. As reported in an article in ComputerWorld Canada’s Feb. 26 issue (Too much of a good thing, pg. 3), a report which summarizes the findings of the first Canadian World Mental Health Day in 1998, found the need to keep pace with information technology is causing workplace stress, with the potential for workers to suffer from depression and heart disease.

The rapid pace of working with technology is one of the reasons many IT professionals are drawn to the field. But it can also take a toll in other areas of the worker’s life — for example, being accessible 24 hours a day.

For this reason, it’s important to find a balance between knowing when to be connected and when to turn off your pager, cellular phone and computer.

Remember when we only had access to fax machines and telephones? But today, think of how many ways we can be accessed or access people – via a pager, a cell phone, e-mail on your PC at work, e-mail on your desktop at home, e-mail on your laptop, fax machines, a phone at the office and a phone at home.

Now on top of that, we are seeing the emergence of such technologies as wireless handheld e-mail devices. Take Waterloo, Ont.-based Research in Motion’s (RIM) Blackberry, for example. With this device, e-mail messages are relayed from a user’s PC to the handheld device without dialling in. It includes a wearable wireless handheld device with integrated e-mail/organizer tools such as a calendar and address book along with an alarm, a PC docking cradle and mailbox integration with Microsoft Exchange.

These types of technology help us to be more efficient and make our lives more convenient. So it is not the numerous devices available to communicate which is the problem, it’s the management of the technology and the number of hours people let themselves be accessible to others.

So what do we do? We have to acknowledge this problem. And we have to deal with this problem. With the potential for personal injury, it’s time to find that balance between knowing when to be connected and when not to be connected. And it’s important to find a balance now because as more and more communication devices become more pervasive, the more people are going to want or feel the pressure to be connected.

One suggestion is for IS managers to help create policies to help employees strike a balance, because it is in both theirs and the employees’ best interests. If not, they could find themselves, and their employees, burning out. Looking back to the Feb. 26 issue of ComputerWorld Canada once again, it is estimated that depression, spurred from over stressed workers, could cost Canadian and U.S. businesses around $60 billion each year in productivity losses, disability costs, wage replacements and product and service quality issues. Can you afford this?

So I offer you this challenge: One night when you get home from work and it’s not absolutely critical you have to be accessible to anyone, turn off your pager, turn off your cellular phone, turn off your computer.

I dare you.