Balancing Technology in the Office

Years ago, when the iPad first came out, I thought “who would ever want to carry a phone, a laptop, AND a tablet??” Looking back, I realize how very wrong I was. These days people have several different devices, and they use every single one both for business tasks and personal tasks. Separating the two can be quite a challenge. You feel compelled to check your social media accounts during an office meeting, or you manage your email while out with your family. The lines between business and personal can become very blurred.

There are a few things that businesses can do to help employees keep these areas separate. Employees should be able to have healthy balance between their office life and their personal lives, and know when to turn the devices on and when to power them off.

Device Ownership

When the device is owned by the company it should be pretty straight forward as to what kinds of personal tasks and information the device should have. My rule of thumb is that it should be completely dedicated to work tasks and data. This doesn’t always work out for everyone, but employees need to keep in mind that anything done on the device is the property of the company. If you send personal emails from a work address, the company has the right and ability to view those emails. Nothing you do on a company owned device should have the expectation of remaining private.

The gray area is when the employee owns the device, and occasionally or frequently uses it for business tasks. The employee should be able to have a certain degree of privacy within their own device, but they also have the responsibility to keep the company data safe. This means using a password to access the device, and making sure it is free from viruses and malware. Especially when the device is privately owned, the employee should make an effort to separate their personal life from their work life. Logging into a browser with different profiles can help make this happen, or even keeping completely different profiles on the device itself can help you keep your private life from mixing with your work life.

Be Transparent

When you are using a device at work, make sure the people around you know what you are up to, so there are no assumptions. If you need to pull out your phone during a meeting, let the rest of the meeting know why. Tell the room that you need to write down what what just said, or that you will email a person right away to ask a question that was posed during the meeting. Then follow through and do exactly that, and put the device away again immediately. As you get used to this kind of transparency, you will be less tempted to go off task while using the device.

You can also be transparent by making it known what kind of meeting you are conducting. If you want a device free meeting, make sure it’s listed inside the meeting request. Employees are either required to leave their devices at their desk, or turn them in as they walk into the room. If this is something you spring on the employees at the last minute, you may have some complaints, but if they know it’s a requirement prior to the meeting, there won’t be anyone questioning it.

Documented Policies

The best way to make sure that employees are using technology within the parameters the company has set, is to have a documented policy that all employees must agree to. The policy should include times and places personal devices may be used, if at all. It should also include reasonable response expectations such as, you should respond to all emails within 24 hours, unless on vacation. Also, if you will be headed on vacation, require an out of office response to be set up. This policy can be completely customized to your business, and should reflect your company’s values and culture. If you notice abuses of personal devices becoming more prevalent, you should revisit the policy and make necessary changes.

Setting the expectation during the hiring process of how technology will be used at your company is essential to help employees understand the reasoning behind the policies, and help them be on board with them.