These days, most business owners have a smartphone, but are they making life easier or making us a slave to work? We teamed up with BlackBerry to ask small business owners what they think.
Research in Motion, the makers of BlackBerry, teamed up with us to host a roundtable discussion on work/life balance in the private dining room of Sydney’s prestigious Aria restaurant.
After some interesting speeches, an enthusiastic debate ensued with the mix of small business people and representatives of the mobile phone companies leaving with some interesting insights. Jaye Radisich, CEO of the Council of Small Business of Australia (COSBOA) and Dr Kristine Dery from the University of Sydney, were guest speakers.
Ms Radisich, of COSBOA, said: “I was really amazed, and impressed, that the designated topic for the day occupied almost all of the discussion around the table. This is quite a rare occurrence in the world of themed lunches, so I can only put it down to an excellent choice of topic, and the perfect mix of guests who were genuinely interested in and committed to exploring the topic.
“Over the following few days I found myself raising points that were brought up at the lunch with other friends and colleagues. It surprised me that some people have such firm views about the value of PDAs and the appropriateness of their use in various environments. The most striking example of this was one friend who described the use of a PDA in a meeting during a point of discussion in which they were not involved as “an energy thief,” and he argued that everyone in every meeting should be 100 percent present at all times, or they should leave the meeting.
“This is quite a stark contrast to perhaps a more commonly accepted view that checking messages on a PDA when you’re peripheral to a conversation is an efficient use of time and means that you can still be productive when you need to be physically present at a meeting, but aren’t required to be an active participant at any given point in time.”
With many people now using Twitter via their BlackBerry to keep an eye on what’s going on in business, Hugh Humphrey of Vodafone, said businesses who didn’t realise social networking was valuable, were being short sighted.
“There is diversity in business opinion on whether social networking is more social or more networking, and this is reflected through organisational policy,” he said. “Some businesses have embraced the phenomenon for benefit and others see it as a distraction from core work and attempt to stifle. Businesses in the former camp will surely enjoy results ahead of their peers who assume the latter stance. Web 2.0, mobile 2.0 and unified communications blend work with life. And the result? Life.”
Another attendee, Michael Bevan, the former Australian cricketer and now MD of his own business, said: “Being in the HR and executive coaching field, the most interesting topic of the day for me was whether or not smartphones were a help or a hindrance to our work/life balance.”
He added: “With so many great innovative products in the market that allow us to improve our business efficiency and our ability to communicate, it still comes back to the individual’s ability to utilise their smartphone in an effective manner that will enhance their life. For every upside and benefit there can also be adverse impacts to work/life balance if the person doesn’t have the self awareness or self control in personal situations.”
Dermot Crowley of Adapt Training Solutions came away with the view that smartphones can be a great help in finding work/life balance and people simply need to learn how to use them in a smart way. “Work/life balance could be termed work/life presence. It is important to be present in the space you are in; focused on work when at work, focused on family when with family. If we do use mobile tools to peek back into the other world, we should be disciplined about this and not let it just bleed.
“A big reason why people let their worlds bleed into each other is they don’t trust that they are in control of the other world when away. If they feel there are loose ends at work they will stress about this and not be present. Having a good planning system in place gives you the control and trust that allows you to switch off. Smartphones are not the problem. The issue is that most people don’t know how to have a healthy relationship with their inbox and email, and so end up having an unhealthy relationship with their Blackberry as well.”
Suzi Dafnis, chair of the Australian Businesswomen’s Network and a small business owner, said: “It’s a myth and a lie that we should have balance. As long as we’re doing what we want, when we want, with whom we want, then what does it matter how much time we spend on various aspects of life?
“Priorities change. I worked 24/7 for the first seven years I was in business and that is what I needed to do to make it work. Now I don’t do that and I spend a lot more time on the things I then neglected like health and fitness and my social life.
“Your employer is not responsible for you having balance in your life. You need to make decisions. Sometimes the decision will be one that favours the workplace, other times personal commitments will take priority.”
She added: “The idea of work/life balance relates to women business owners. Our members do ask for help to find more balance. Our way of supporting is to help them clarify the vision they have for their business and their life, to set priorities and make decisions consciously and to do what will get them their goals. I think the feeling of being ‘out of balance’ is actually a chaotic existence that stems from not doing what’s important to you, for you.”
Richard Hardy, head of business marketing and strategy for 3, said: “For me, the biggest take away from the roundtable was that technology makes so many things possible (like being contactable 24/7) that we need to make sure that a company’s culture supports the balance that employees need to lead a fulfilling life. This might mean making sure that managers understand that just because someone is contactable does not mean they should be contacted at 10pm on a Saturday.”
James Balagot from Citibank, said: “The event was a great discussion of how smartphones like Blackberry are changing the business landscape, family and interpersonal dynamics. It truly transfers the power of the company to the individual in how they manage their work. The question will become how well individuals manage this technology to maintain a work/life balance that works for them.
“BlackBerrys have changed the way small businesses can compete on a national scale. All of a sudden, any business from anywhere can conduct commerce and compete in a marketplace that is moving faster each day. Smartphones have provided a set of capabilities that help businesses move beyond the brick and mortar while maintaining relationships, which is key.”
Phil Offer, SMB marketing director for Optus, said: “Small businesses that use information on the go are accessible, professional and improve customer experience. These are drivers of enormous changes in the way we work and live. Smartphones enable people to do business with customers just about anytime, anywhere, on their terms.
“Engagement and empowerment are two key factors for achieving work/life balance. Engagement allows you to access information at your fingertips and to deal quickly with an email or a customer request; empowerment allows you to judge when it is best to respond to that request. You are in the driving seat. The device can create more innovative ways to achieve work/life balance but it’s the responsibility of the user to leverage this.”
See next page for SME case study on the benefits of smartphones…
Wally Salinger, who attended the lunch, is a franchise manager of TriSkills (an in-school sports and gymnastics service provider), manages his own swimming coaching business and is president of a volleyball club. Through the use of his BlackBerry smartphone, Wally has improved his response times to clients, maintained a successful second business without impacting his full-time work and experienced a more effective use of personal, swimming coaching and work time.
Around 70 percent of Wally’s time is spent out of the office, meaning mobility is a very high priority. He believes that profit margins are very low in his industry and price and value is a key factor in technology choice. Wally believes that reliability is the difference between maintaining a client as a loyal customer or losing them due to communication failure.
Some of the benefits Wally has gained from using a BlackBerry:
- Improved response times to clients and communication within the TriSkills Franchising group. Wally believes that the BlackBerry device has helped him maintain a second business (swimming coaching) without impacting his full-time work. It has given him a more effective use of personal, swimming coaching and work time and less downtime in airports or while in transit.
- Being available while providing swimming coaching at the pool as he believes that email is non-invasive and can be used very effectively by franchisees to contact him while he is out of the office. Location is not a barrier to his productivity and his ‘office’ is no longer a physical place.
- The ability to forward email to two businesses, a volleyball club and three personal email addresses.
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