Have you ever e-mailed from the bathroom?

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Instant access to e-mails and office work from just about anywhere is changing the way we think about the working day. For many 9-5 is becoming a thing of the past. Technology is making it easier for people to work when and where it suits them, writes BT's Adam Oliver.

Changes in technology are blurring the distinction between work and home. It is becoming easier to work away from the office. This should give employees greater flexibility to choose the way they work. But while some people are eager to use this new technology, others appear to want to run away from it.

People no longer need to go into the office to log on to their PCs to collect e-mails or access the corporate intranet. New devices allow them to do this from home, on the train, or walking down the street.

My Blackberry e-mail device, for example, allows me to receive and send e-mails no matter where I am. That means I can read and respond to my e-mails when and where it suits me. This could be on trains and buses, in meetings or at home in the evening.

Blackberry allows me to deal with correspondence immediately, saving time and effort later. It allows me to get a more efficient use from my time.

At home, it sits on the side in my spare room quietly making sure that I am in control of my corporate life. But shouldn't corporate life start and stop when I go through the front door at work?

Work faster not longer

You can now stay on top of the world's developments and receive e-mails 24 hours a day. But, how do you manage to fit this 24x7 into the rest of your life? Where do you draw the line between work and home-life?

With the flexibility afforded by this technology, comes a greater need for individuals to take control of managing the balance between their home life and work.

Employers talk about 'dead time', the time when employees are not actively engaged in the company's business. But an employer's dead time is likely to be a worker's social time. This needs to be protected. Easy-access technology might help you to do more work, but it shouldn't mean that you are expected to do longer hours - unless you want to.

It is all about personal choice. What suits one person will be another person's nightmare scenario. People must be allowed to decide the best work pattern for themselves.

There needs to be a change of culture, starting at board level. Because someone might want to send business-related e-mails at midnight, does not mean that the recipients should be expected to reply to them there and then. Companies will have to develop a higher level of trust in their employees about the amount of work they are doing to get their jobs done.

Why change?

Like most people at work, I have a PC that sits on my desk waiting to be stabbed into life. Ten minutes later it will kindly start to tell me how many bits of email are waiting for me.

I find this frustrating. This is something that I have to work around; I like things to work around me.

The PC has not migrated forward since its first arrival in our offices. It has not made a great deal of difference to productivity. Devices that release people from being tied to their desks will make a difference.

The best way to convince people of the benefits of a new piece of equipment is to let them try it. It is too easy to blind people with the technology. It is not about how it works, but about how easy it is to use and what it can do for you that are the crucial points to get across.

Most managers do not want to use a large amount of technology - but they do want access to more information. They need to be sold 'transparent technology'. They want to see the benefits of using the equipment, but want to be spared the details of how it works.

Wider benefits

It is not only individual employees who benefit from technology that allows ease of access.

As flow of information increases so companies become more connected. People begin to share ideas more readily and barriers start to come down. Social interaction increases as people start talking to each other about things other than work.

This is not something to be feared. If employees are prepared to take work into their homes, they will expect to be free to engage in some social activity in the office. It is an important feature of getting the work life balance right.


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