31 January 2008

The 24/7 Executive: Are Our Bosses Addicted?

With the use of the wireless hand-held device, our bosses now seem to be working continually. Is the ability to conduct business 24/7 the new high? How is that impacting the role of the assistant and can we help?

The Wireless Corporate Addiction

A young lawyer puts his wireless hand-held device under his pillow so he won’t miss that all-important call or e-mail. He doesn’t want to miss the opportunity if someone should want to get in touch with him. Initially he is somewhat surprised when he is awakened in the wee hours of the morning with incoming messages, but now he considers it normal to receive e-mails at any time of the day or night.

A corporate executive is concerned that while on a cruise in a remote part of the world he will only be able to check his messages when he disembarks on land. His spouse endures patiently until the next port of call, while his assistant waits anxiously to see when he logs on so messages can be exchanged.

It is such a noticeable phenomenon that the name Crackberry has been dubbed for those who are addicted.

Some disturbing symptoms of this wireless addiction are feelings of anxiety when you are unable to go online or are out of service range, and neglecting your real relationships for your wireless ones.

Colleagues and assistants unknowingly become enablers as they feed this compulsion to check messages by taking advantage of their online availability. Employers may even fuel the addiction by their expectations of 24/7 accessibility.

The laptop started the excitement with the convenience of being able to bring your computer on the road. With the wireless we can now carry our computer in our pocket. We have gone from the fascination of the big screen to the addiction of the small screen and executives have taken to it with a passion.

The Day the Berry went Black

April 17, 2007 will be remembered as the day when service was interrupted for hours, well into the next day, for millions of users of the wireless hand-held device in North America. Offices were buzzing about what could have happened. “Where were you when...?” or “How did you cope?” were the kinds of questions executives were asking each other. People held their collective breaths wondering when service might be restored and they could get back to thumbing their way through their messages.

Getting the Cold Thumb

If you have ever waited for the elevator or for public transit with one of these users you will have gotten the cold thumb. They do not acknowledge the people around them because their focus is entirely on the wireless as they continue to talk with their thumbs.

Physiotherapists are seeing more repetitive strain injuries on hands and thumbs from this overuse, with the increase in tendinitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. Some users have had to withdraw and go cold turkey because of the damage.

Lighten up

Some websites have taken a light-hearted look at this pastime and are making suggestions for other uses for the wireless device, such as using the wireless as a night light to go to places it has never gone before – directing blurry eyed executives to the bathroom.

Paparazzi type sightings of Crackberry users have become the new frenzy and are posted on websites. Who will they spot using their wireless?

People are also coming up with new words to express their online addiction such as blirting, which is the equivalent of wireless flirting, and talking with your thumbs to explain the wireless chit chat.

Don’t Berry and Drive, however, may be the new catch phrase to describe the emerging socially unacceptable behaviour of driving while on your wireless. The dangers of focusing on your wireless while driving are becoming a real concern, and rightly so. Concentrating on anything other than your driving is a danger to yourself and to others.

The Changing Role of the Assistant

With the increasing demands on the time of the executive at work and at play, the stresses are mounting as their workloads are increasing and they need the help of their assistants more and more.

It used to be when our bosses were away it was a time for us to catch up on our filing, take messages and pass on any urgent requests that needed to be handled in their absence. Now when they are on the road, or on vacation, the need for assistance is becoming critical. No longer are people going through the assistant to contact the boss, they are going directly to the boss through the wireless hand-held device. As our bosses are waiting to connect to a flight or during a break in a meeting, they are e-mailing their assistants and asking them for a status on a file so they can report back to a client or management.

Some professionals out of necessity have given their assistants access to their Inbox so the assistant can screen messages and weed out what they do not need to look at, or things that the assistant can handle on their behalf.

It is becoming increasingly important to read these e-mails thoroughly to look for action items or dates that need to be put in your boss’s calendar and handling requests for information.

The ability to be organized has taken on a whole new meaning for the assistant as we turn our attention to helping our professionals cope. Some assistants who have remote access to their work e-mail accounts at home have also taken to checking e-mails in the evenings and off hours to keep up with the demands.

The assistant can become a part of the solution, but a strategy between the executive and their assistant needs to be made to handle these types of issues.

In Summary

This may well be the generation of the 24/7 workforce. Are we up for the challenge or do we need to step back and re-evaluate? It will be interesting to see how the role of the assistant will be impacted and changed as we move forward to this new way of doing business.

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