BlackBerry protocol up for grabs - Metro US

BlackBerry protocol up for grabs

Many of you had something to say regarding last week’s column on BlackBerry carriers and whether these devices help or hurt our work/life balance.

Some of you have said that it does not allow you to unplug fully from work. Others said it helps them be more available from anywhere. But the real question is exactly who owns who?

JoAnne Yates is an interim deputy dean at MIT Sloan School of Management. She, along with her co-authors Melissa Mazmanian (a doctoral student) and Wanda Orlikowski (another professor), study social norms and expectations around BlackBerry use.

“In general, however, the fact that you carry a particular technology is not the critical factor. How you use it is,” she says.

Since this technology is fairly new, standards and expectations will vary from employer to employer.

“If you and your colleagues and boss depend on implicit signals, you will more easily find yourself caught in a spiral of increasing expectations as everyone tries to stay ahead of what they assume others expect of them,” she says.

The fact this medium is still new to the workplace means that protocol is still up for grabs.

“Only over time do norms become established and agreed upon. Broadly shared etiquette and protocol begin as norms at the most local level (e.g. within your work group). Gradually, sets of local norms often converge on a larger level, but frequently not completely.”

Yates and her colleagues found employees of a small private equity firm they studied said norms at their firms differed from those they knew about from large investment firms, for example. Norms for BlackBerry use by on-the-road sales agents are likely to evolve differently from those for lawyers or investment advisers. Professionals using BlackBerrys to be available to clients — whether internal or external — are likely to develop different norms than those using them for communication with peers and a boss.

As I touched on last week, the user, in accordance with company policy, dictates the availability expectations co-workers will have.

“If a colleague sends a message to you and you respond within 10 minutes, even in the evening or during the weekend, this may suggest to the colleague that you also expect rapid response and constant availability. This assumption contributes to the expectations spiral.”

She also acknowledges that hierarchy can contribute to this dynamic.

“If your boss sends you an e-mail in the middle of the night, you may feel that you need to be able to respond in the middle of the night. Of course, the timing may only reflect travel in a different time zone, or even insomnia, but you may interpret it differently,” she says.

“When expectations for availability and responsiveness become very high, whether explicitly or though unintentional expectations creep, unplugging becomes more challenging. But it is important to be able to unplug, both for daily family and personal reasons, and for periodic vacation breaks.”

Creating a message that says you are away from the office and will not have access to e-mail for a specified period for vacations will help you unplug.

“The most important piece of advice I can give, based on our research, is to ask for explicit expectations,” she says. “Once you know the explicit expectations, act in accordance with them, but don’t try to outperform them.”


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