I do think that people now are more aware of how they use their phones while driving – it is illegal to do so – but how aware are people of how they use their phones on a public transport commute?
I had a lovely chat with Roberto Perrone on the BBC 3 Counties Drive Time Show last week discussing the findings of a study carried out by the University of the West of England for the Royal Geographic Society (BBC Report).
My first thought is about defining who we are talking about, because I am fairly sure we are not talking about all commuters. I suspect that the main focus is office workers and managers of other organisations. I don’t think retails staff or factory workers, nurses or emergency response workers will be checking their emails (but please correct me if I am wrong).
The main gist of the article was a question: Should time spent on emails during a commute be considered to be working time?
My next thought was: Does it matter?
Most office staff are not hourly paid and many do not receive overtime for getting their day job done. Therefore if they are spending an extra hour a day clearing emails on their phone, does it matter?
Choice and Control
I think in reality this comes down to whether the employee is required to check their emails or whether they chose to. If they are required to check and respond to their emails on a regular basis then this is different from someone choosing to manage their time, workload and home / work balance in this way.
If someone is required to check their emails, perhaps because they are on call, perhaps because they are waiting for time critical information, then in many cases their job description will reflect this and they should be remunerated accordingly.
If someone choses to leave the office at 5 and finish off their day on their commute home, thus enabling them to reach home at a reasonable time, then this is a personal choice which can be empowering and lead to greater efficiency. Some people only check emails two or three times a day to ensure that they are able to operate at optimum levels without interruptions and deliver what they plan to deliver within each day.
It is very rare that an employer will tell an employee they must work in the evenings or respond to emails 18 hours a day. It is far more likely that employees adopt these behaviours to enable them to cope with excessive volumes of emails, or to ensure that they are able to stay on top of their workload. Learning to take control of your inbox before it takes control of you is absolutely essential to ensure that you are able to deliver as required. However, there are times when the sheer volume of emails is just too much and the amount of work required from you is just not achievable even if you were to work 24 hours a day.
This is when an employee needs to have a tough conversation with the boss. This is not an emotional outburst, but a considered discussion around volume, expectations, standards deliverables and support.
I have lost count of the number of times I have overheard highly confidential conversations on a train. Although these are often between two people sat together, more often than not it is a phone conversation. Discussing the outcome of a meeting, the prospects of a deal or the firing of an employee. People not only need to be aware of the time spent on emails on a phone during a commute, but they also need to be very conscious of the content of their work related conversations in public places.
As an employer or manager, you have a duty of care to your staff. This means ensuring that they are not put under excessive stress at work, that the job is reasonable and achievable in the time available. While there may be an occasional need to work from home in the evenings responding to emails or clear down emails on a commute to work, this should not be the norm and if it is, the roles and responsibilities of the employee need to be discussed and possibly reviewed.
The Working Time Directive (WTD) states that employees should not be working more than an average of 48 hours a week. Does this include checking emails either by choice or if required to do so? If the employee has not opted out of the WTD, then it probably does, but choice and control will also play a role here.
Security and devices
Another issue in this debate is around security and data protection. Who owns the phone? Is it a personal phone or a work phone? What security is on the phone? If work emails are on a personal phone, perhaps with confidential information, who is responsible for the security of that data? It is now outside of company systems and security protocols what happens if the phone is lost or stolen?
As an employer, you have a choice. You determine the culture. You set the policies and procedures. Communication is essential for you, your staff and the business, and you need to decide whether you want your team working on their mobiles – personal or otherwise – out of hours, including on their commute.