When is it time to log off?

In an article for The Guardian newspaper, Ana Catarina Mendes, the parliamentary leader of the Portuguese Socialist party, discussed the “the right to switch off”. As a result of the campaign run by her party, the Portuguese parliament has banned company chiefs from contacting employees outside of normal working hours.

Since the days of the Blackberry smartphone, people have had the ability to connect to work email from anywhere and, significantly, at any time. As many have found, this leads to a culture where people send email messages at any time, day or night. And recipients feel like they may as well respond.

Unlike its predecessor, the pager, messages sent out of office hours to a recipient’s smartphone are usually not a last resort – an emergency, which needs the recipient’s immediate attention. There is no real differentiation. The device will receive all messages, irrespective of their urgency.

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic those individuals who could work from home have been able to communicate and collaborate with colleagues over email and on conference calls. Email can be managed asynchronously, allowing people to respond when it’s convenient. But conference calls are set for a specific time in one time zone. For those not living in that time zone, they may need to tune in in the middle of night local time or in the early hours of the morning. Certainly, the time these calls take place do not often fit in with everyone’s normal working day. It is the same with external events that try to reach a global audience. Usually, the time the event runs is only convenient for a subset of delegates living in the time zone the event organiser feels would capture the largest online audience.

Global business needs global awareness

Communications and collaborations can and should be encouraged globally. But, as Computer Weekly reported in a recent discussion with the global pharmaceutical firm, AstraZeneca, by not accounting for the differences in time zones and culture, a company risks being non-inclusive. The weekend does not start on Friday evening for everyone; Islam recognises the weekend on different days. Labor Day and Thanksgiving are not UK national holidays but people working with the US tend to recognise they won’t get a response if they send an email during the US holiday season.

The new legislation in Portugal is something that may be adopted elsewhere as trade unions, opposition parties and governments start to recognise the implications of a hybrid work pattern. As always, tech has a role to play in encoding these rules into the software we use.

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