"Pick Up The Phone!" (Or Must You?)

Old Telephone - Gokhan Okur

The way we connect with one another has revolutionised over the past ten years. Technology brands are developing products at an exceptional speed, making the days of going through your friend’s secretary seem thoroughly retro.

Now we can see whether the person we are Google Messaging is really LOL-ing, and even track down what building our fellow Latitude iPhone application owners are in. Of course, this makes life far more efficient and convenient. But does the same apply to life at work?

My instant reaction would be to say yes. Emails are so intrinsic to business operations that without them, we could be forced to stock pigeons in the office. Video conferences increase one’s attention and engagement. And, being able to call or text a colleague not at their desk has the potential to be 'career-saving'. However, a recent conversation I was roped into exposed issues I had not previously considered: "The younger generation think it’s OK to check their Facebook at work", a senior accountant said, looking at me accusingly as if:

a) none of the 350 million active users are above the age of thirty
b) she did not realise that her own profile and four hundred and twelve photos of her were not set to private, and
c) I had not mastered the godsend that is Alt, Tab

Someone else then chimed in with how offensive they find people who text during meetings, when they themself have flown from half way across the world to be there. Although this persecutor was not looking at me specifically, I found myself wishing I had my mobile, so I could message someone to come drag me away.

Of course, the argument against people using technology for personal reasons in the office has an obvious and important locus: it distracts workers from doing what they are being paid to do. It is rude and painfully frustrating when someone you are with, even if it is not at work, pointlessly chats to someone else via voice or fingers. However, the attempt to attach a stigma to all forms of unprofessional contact with the outside world is unreasonable and, in fact, hypocritical.

Technology was initially introduced into the work environment to enable coherent exchanges between employees; text messages originated as a means for engineers to quickly send one another updates, hence the acronym SMS standing for Short Message Service. Such effective devices have transformed into becoming critical to the way people communicate socially rather than simply professionally. Company directors hit 'Send to All' to invite the entire floor and their spouses to crazy Christmas dos. Returning someone’s call relieves them that you haven’t been thrown onto the street with nothing but a pat on the head and a company biro. Scanning your Facebook notifications or Tweeting takes less time than having a cigarette break or partaking in awkwardly lame banter with some random colleague. Momentarily distracting as they may be, these types of communication are crucial at work. They keep us sane.

These stressful times are making it increasingly difficult to separate work from play. But, just as companies have their own pages on social networking sites and 'kindly' give their staff Blackberries so that business may run like clockwork even if dinner time does not, it is only fair that people should be allowed to use communicative technology to build their own positive bridges between their professional and personal lives. Regardless of what generation they are from.