Working From a Distance: Is 24/7 A Good Thing?

Technology has given us the ability to stay connected 24/7 which is a blessing and also a curse. One of the downsides is that the lines between work and down time have become increasingly blurred. Many companies feel that employees should be available nights, weekends and even on vacation. Some provide employees with smartphones with the understanding that they will be accessible whenever they are needed.

Not all employees object to this. The majority of respondents to a recent Gallup Poll said that being able to work remotely after hours was a good thing. With 42 percent saying that being able to stay in touch with the office during down time was a “strongly positive” development and 37 percent saying it was only “somewhat positive.” However, only about a third of respondents said that they “frequently” connected with work after hours.

Whether they object or not employees who spend more hours working remotely outside of normal working hours are more likely to experience stress. Despite this, for most of us being connected to our job almost constantly is the norm.

Still there are a few leaders speaking out again the current 24/7 work cycle. Earlier this year, Arianna Huffington spoke passionately at the Wisdom 2.0 Conference about the need to step back. She talked about waking up in a pool of blood after cutting her eye and breaking her cheekbone when she collapsed from exhaustion in 2007. At the Huffington Post, she established a policy of disconnecting from the office where employees are not expected to answer email after hours or over the weekend.

Some European countries have made radical changes. The German labor ministry voted in guidelines which prevent ministry staff from being “penalized” for failing to respond after hours. Some German companies, including Volkswagen, BMW and Puma, restrict after hours email. VW even stops forwarding emails to staff shortly after the work day has ended.

In France, employers’ federations and unions signed a “legally binding agreement” that requires employees to disconnect from the office after working hours. This agreement affects the French offices of some non-French companies including Google, Facebook, Deloitte and PricewaterhouseCoopers. Meanwhile, in Sweden the city council in Gothenburg voted to try out a six-hour workday with full-pay for its staff.

Are these changes a preview of what’s to come in the US? It doesn’t seem likely. Does this mean that employers should be forbidden from contacting employees after hours? In our culture of staying connected 24/7 that doesn’t seem likely either. But there should be some room for compromise.

Is it urgent every time our smartphone bleeps or buzzes? Probably not.

(About the Author: Annette Richmond, MA is a writer, optimist, media enthusiast and executive editor of Having changed careers several times, including working as a career coach, she has a unique perspective on career management. When starting over a decade ago, her goal was to provide a one-stop online career resource.

In addition to being a writer, speaker and consultant, Richmond contributes career-related articles to various other sites including ForbesWoman. She holds a BA in English from Sacred Heart University and a MA in Applied Psychology from Fairfield University. She resides in Rowayton, CT, with her husband, Eric, and their four-legged kids.)

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