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Oof - out of the office isn't what it used to be

Paul Brislen, Editor. 20 July 2020, 5:00 am

Taking a week off used to mean setting your landline voicemail to a temporary greeting and heading out, safe in the knowledge that nobody could interrupt you. It was like a weekend, only better.

Then came the mobile phone and that luxury was eroded quite quickly. Instead of being out of the office, and therefore uncontactable, you were out of the office but still in reach, just without your usual armoury of data and associated apps (although we probably called them programs). It was the worst of both worlds - accountability without capability.

Then they started issuing us with Blackberries (remember those?), although one employer of note who shall remain nameless insisted on issuing said label-printer-looking devices only to senior management, who would of course lock them in their desk drawers before leaving for the weekend.

Finally the light dawned and we were issued cellphones, Blackberries, laptops, PCMCIA cards that had little antenna and we were relaunched as road warriors.

Oh how mighty we were.

Probably we still didn't have access to quite the same level of detail as we would in the office - things like the contacts database or CMS would be out of reach, but we had email and that was surely just as good.

Today of course we are all mobile warriors, if only because of COVID-19 and our need to work remotely. And that's fine, but when it is time to disconnect there's an added level of complexity that some of us (OK, me) hadn't anticipated.

Sure, I set my mobile voicemail to say I was uncontactable (a lie - who's uncontactable in this day and age?) and my landline was disconnected permanently a long time ago so that was fine. Then on to the emails, of which I have three work-related and one personal, so all needed an "out of office" with appropriate hand-offs of responsibility.

But what about Teams? What about Slack? What about Trello boards and Messenger, Zoom, Facebook, Twitter, Facetime and Skype? What about an out of office for my text messages?

Even when you set an out of office on any of these (assuming you remember to, of course, or that you actually can) that only gets you halfway there. I lived vicariously through a number of team meetings held over Teams able to keep up via the messages that were automatically shared with my mobile even though my laptop knew I was away.

And of course, what my phone knows so knows my watch, and so my time away from the office consisted largely of TXT messages, Team messages, alerts about meetings that were still going on even though I wasn't attending and many more stress inducers than were strictly necessary including the double up of a "ding" noise from my phone plus the equivalent rubber-band-on-the-wrist pinging from the watch. Normally this is good and I encourage it but come on, I'm on holiday!

Next time I might just leave all the kit behind, or make sure I actually do find a campsite that doesn't get cellphone coverage.

Of course, now I'm back I find I have 50 or so unread emails plus 30 or so meeting requests and that's after I've already scanned through a couple of hundred emails that slipped through the defences.

But I'm totally rested and ready for the week. Did anything happen while I was away?


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