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Mobile: A World with No Off Switch

On off switchThe work day of my CPA father had a start time, a stop time and a lunch hour (except during tax season). He commuted from the suburbs to the city. While traveling, he read a newspaper, read a book, did some office work or slept. Sure, there were occasional phone calls at night. However, the office was the nucleus of all work including the delivery of paper everything - tax returns, 14 column audit worksheets, correspondence and hand written notes. My father died in 2000 without ever placing his fingers on a computer or cell phone. Today, the office location is wherever we are.

Whether it is personal or business, mobile technology in a wireless environment is standard. There may still be a few holdouts that have relocated to a cave and do not use technology resources such as the internet or smart phones. If you are reading this, you are way outside any cave.

The discussion of using mobile technology starts with two fundamentals:

• Being mobile does NOT require you to be professional
• Being professional requires you to be mobile

It is no longer a question of if you or will you take advantage of mobile computing in a non-office environment. We already have mobile applications from email to text messaging to social networking to accessing websites for data and application retrieval. Work is planned with distant connectivity as a key component. Everyone has some location in their homes that can be used permanently or temporarily for office-related work.

How you handle the no off-switch issue is a serious matter for you, your partners, your staff, your clients, your prospect clients and all your other contacts. With this big list of people, the issue is serious and requires your immediate attention.

Here are a few of the underlying fundamentals that combine to create the no off switch issue. Please add your own.

• Technology enables and encourages distant work
• 21st century client expectations shortens time between start and completion
• The expansion of requests from clients, prospect clients, coworkers
• The need to make up for a vacation or sick day - yours or a co-worker
• Over committed work schedules
• Personal interruptions, such as medical, kids and parents.
• The 24/7 world exists for everyone

These fundamentals impact every phase of your mobile world. Moreover, these fundamentals impact every member of your community, including partners, staff, clients, family and other connections. Work decisions must include how mobile technologies impact work flow and personnel decisions.

During the last century, accounting professionals were compensated based on a 35- or 40-hour work week. Compensation could be increased by hourly overtime pay and/or time based bonuses. Today, with the no off-switch work schedule how pay is determined is a growing issue. Most professionals expect that partners and staff will respond to mobile connections at night, on weekends, over lunch, or on vacation. How this extra effort is compensated has to be determined. How you decide has to include consideration of the following:

The speed and completeness of a mobile response that is expected or required
• Defining the issues about what is voluntary and what is non-voluntary
• The method of compensation for salaried workers
• The method of compensation for non-salaried workers
• What mobile equipment is provided as part of employment (or not)
• What mobile services are available as part of employment (or not)

The upside from mobile technology starts with the capability for professionals to access information at any time from any location. The downside is dealing with the forever on call pressures as work expands to 68 hours per week. This creates some very real concerns for the life-and-work balance.

No single source has all the answers for you. No single answer is right for every client. There is no single way to shape your week among work and non-work activities. There is no single decision to manage the no off switch issue. Check the following ideas and select those that can be integrated and improve your life, not disrupt it.

Email Processing Time Savers

Discard unwanted junk and useless messages immediately.
Your inbox is a destination for too much stuff. Symantec just released a report of their 2010 study about spam messages. Symantec states that global spam has increased to 89.1 percent of all emails sent. The report also stated that the average number of new malicious web sites blocked each day in 2010 rose to 3,066. Symantec identified 339,673 different strains of malware among the 115.6 million emails that it blocks during the year. Their conservative estimate is that 95.1 billion phishing emails are in circulation in 2010.

Respond quickly to useful e-mails.
Whether from a desktop, laptop, smartphone, quickly read, reply and delete. Most useful messages do not require research or further review.

When responding, answer questions first.
Extra comments about weather, fantasy football, celebrations, etc can be in a separate email.

Review emails for accuracy and completeness before hitting send.
Too often unintentional typing errors send the wrong message.

Use clear language.
Trying to be funny, sarcastic or deeply intellectual may be missed by the reader. Abbreviations among friends can be OK. For clients and co-workers, standard text messaging abbreviations may not translate.

Consider using email organizer software.
Outlook rules can sort email as it arrives. Using this feature is important. More advanced email organizing software can be an effective solution to improve receiving, retrieving and sending email. The time saved when searching for a specific message can be significant.

A good example of useful email organizers is Mail Manager from Oasys. This Outlook plug-in helps to manage email for one individual and is exceedingly valuable for a firm of more than one. All email for one client or one individual or one category can be retrieved, replied to and filed with all other similar emails. The Mail Manager software learns behavior from previous actions by each user. Mail is stored on the firm servers so that retrieving can be accomplished from any connected device -in-house desktop to smartphone to public workstation. All emails are stored in Microsoft msg format to support use across multiple platforms. A new product feature, "Snap n' Send," enables markups of images, charts, and documents within the email for clarification, comments and request for specific discussions.

Alternatives for outlook email include all of the social networking sites. Many professionals are using Facebook and Linkedin as a method of sending simple contact style messages. This works especially with groups that can be set up on either of these sites.

Here are a few more email time-saving actions to consider:

• Unsubscribe from news and other feeds that you do not read
• Shut off the email alert tone to remove a Pavlovian response to the tone
• Shut the laptop case at night and on weekends when something else needs your attention
• Read and act on mail that can be handled quickly, file other mail in the proper cabinet drawer
• Ask for a short response that the message was received, rather than request delivery receipts
• Keep emails short and direct to respect everyone's time
• Never forget that even mobile batteries require recharging

Cellular Phone Notes

Using a cell phone/smartphone is standard for every professional's tool kit. The mobile phone is the epicenter for all distant work activities. Effective use of the phone requires a few practical imperatives for you, your staff and everyone you deal with. As you implement effective phone operations, you become a teacher to other, including staff, clients and family.

The phone's ring does not have to interrupt what you are doing. Learn to suppress the immediate reaction to allow the interruption. With caller id, you can see who is calling and decide to pause or let the message go to voice messaging. If the call is an emergency, most people will call a second or third time. Family dynamics may allow for these calls to interrupt.

The cellphone ringtone should be a sound that gets the owner's attention, not alert the entire population. Practice safe ringtones by using a tone that is not annoying or unpleasant to everyone around you. Learning how to use the mute button respects others when in a business meeting and when in a non-business activity with family and friends. Teach others to do the same.

Cell phones have very good microphones. Therefore, there is no reason to talk so loud that everyone in the room can listen to your half of the conversation. Observing soft talk can be practiced in any enclosed space, such as meeting rooms, restaurants, office locations and libraries.

Using your business cell phone at home is subject of a new service from Verizon that links cell services with a home landline. A base station receives Verizon's wireless signals and can connect calls through the home phone handset. The service is currently being tested in New York and Connecticut and includes landline features such as 911, call waiting, call forwarding, caller ID, international dialing, and three-way calling. The service has extra fees based on your Verizon service contract. Existing home phone numbers can be connected to this service.

Mobile Life Behavior

Working from anywhere requires a rearrangement of your personal disciplines. Just because you can work all the time, does not mean that you have to work all the time. Living with a no off switch lifestyle has a direct consequence that can lead to stress, burnout, or both.

The starting point, of course, is balancing the the financial consequences of work with family trade-offs. Whether or not you choose to work more, you can learn to be sensitive to balancing your work and family activities. Sometimes stopping one for the other is OK. Sometimes brief interruptions are OK. You never have to do everything, even with all of your talent.

Stress involves too much going on all at the same time. This delivers too many pressures demanding too much of your time - physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Being burned out creates a feeling of running on empty, decreases motivation, and increases the feeling of not caring any more.

Mobile life is proven its value. Your work mobility will continue to expand. Your personal mobility will continue to expand. Whether you want to respond to email or watch movies from the comfort of your car or a chair at Starbucks, balancing your on switch and off switch is required. Here are a few suggestions:

Keep priorities in sequence
Do not wake up with your smartphone in hand before you wash and brush your teeth. Do not check email before getting kids ready for school. Do not drive and send text messages. Do not use your smartphone or laptop in a bathroom. (Add your own ‘do not' items)

Manage your workload
If your workload becomes too challenging, talk with someone about ways to handle the work. Divide work tasks into chunks that you can balance. If you know something is going to take a week to complete, do not commit to three days.

Know your boundaries
Thinking about work constantly makes productivity difficult. Make time to cultivate personal activities and relationships. The work will always be there.

Do not feel like you have to do any and everything when there are others that can help. Delegate tasks to others so that this project and your other work will stay on track.

Maintain health
Consume appropriate quantities of food, water, medications, and vitamins. Even when traveling, always remember to breathe in, breathe out, repeat.

Make use of valuable mobile services, such as the following:
Skype - voice and video calls that is free for basic service - online webinars, podcasts, and screen sharing - access your computer remotely, share screens for demonstrations - deliver webinars from anywhere

There are no medals awarded for not using your off switch. The switch, when used, will balance how you want to stay connected. There is some ego satisfaction knowing that people need you. Being called or receiving emails can impress others. It can also be a means to keep work tasks moving forward. You get to choose when to be on switch or off switch. Make the choice wisely.


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