David Hutagalung always carries his BlackBerry smartphone and iPad tablet computer with him, for both work and personal reasons.
He needs to because as sales director for GE Transportation’s Southeast Asian operations, he keeps a very busy schedule.
“There’s hardly any excuse to say that I’m not aware or haven’t been informed of work-related information,” he told the Jakarta Globe on Friday.
“In Indonesia, though, there’s always the possibility of losing network connection, given the state of the broadband infrastructure here.”
He acknowledged, however, that constantly fidgeting with high-end gadgets and staying connected all the time had its downside — namely that it made it more difficult for him to impose a strict boundary between his work and personal life.
David’s dilemma is typical of a growing number of so-called mobile employees, people for whom staying connected forms a crucial part of their job.
A quarterly study released in May by iPass, a US-based provider of enterprise mobility services, showed that these employees worked 240 hours longer annually than the rest of the workforce, who are generally less mobile, and the quarterly figure has been consistent since 2010.
The report also showed that some of the mobile workers fitted the definition of hyperconnected, or being on call 24 hours a day and ready to check e-mail with colleagues from different time zones. This type of mobile worker, the report said, was among the 43 percent of respondents to the iPass survey who said they always kept their smartphones within arm’s reach when they went to bed.
Those who sleep with their smartphone nearby are 60 percent more likely than average to wake during the night to check their devices for work-related reasons, the survey showed. Work was the main reason, at 47 percent, for waking up to check one’s smartphone.
The report also showed that those living in the Asia-Pacific region had the least amount of rest time, with 61 percent of them waking from sleep to check their smartphone or tablet for work. The majority of those who do this (76 percent) are from the 45-54 age bracket.
The report was extracted from responses collected from April 1-15 on mobile productivity work habits and related experiences of more than 3,700 respondents questioned in an iPass survey of mobile enterprise employees.
The mobile employees worked for more than 1,100 different businesses worldwide and represented various age brackets and regions. Half of the respondents were from North America, while 10.1 percent of the respondents were based in the Asia Pacific.
But despite the intrusions of his work into his personal life, David said that having advanced communications gadgets at hand had helped boost his productivity, while having push e-mail meant that he could respond to work-related inquiries without having to wait to access his account at the office.
“But it isn’t all just for work use,” he said. “I use the gadgets for personal use too, such as checking out news sites, keeping up on social networking sites and playing games.”
Irwansyah, head of the Communications Study Center at the University of Indonesia’s School of Social Sciences, said this situation of people being unable to “switch off” after work hours was most apparent among those who were highly mobile, and not as prevalent among those whose jobs required their physical presence at the office.
“The gadgets become a way to bridge the gaps of time, distance and space between employees and their offices, notably in jobs with a results-based orientation that don’t always require the physical presence of the employee in the office,” he said.
He said that the infiltration and widespread use of cellphones and other communications devices had indelibly changed the traditional eight-hour working day.
“It’s true that productivity has increased with the use of these gadgets, but so have the working hours as a result of people being connected all the time,” he said.
Irwansyah said the social impact of this increased online communication was that more people now believed that face-to-face interaction was not always necessary when a phone call or e-mail would suffice.
“But in any online-based communications exchange, there’s an absence of nonverbal aspects such as body language or facial expressions that usually help convey the message being given,” he said. “And without this, there’s a disruption in the communications process.”
Hence the need by some people to compensate by using emoticons to represent feelings and expressions.
“People think that online message exchanges will save them more time, but that’s not always the case, since it lacks the accuracy of direct communications,” he said. “And trying to gauge the sense of an e-mail or instant message takes more time and effort.”
But even then the solution might have come from technology, Irwansyah said.
“It always develops to emulate direct communications as much as possible, so we have video conferencing, Web cams and video phones,” he said.