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Should IT monitor mobile device usage for work-life balance?

Work-related email and other communications have spilled over into after-work hours for many employees today. But should the IT department get involved in monitoring that?

Mobile devices have made it easier than ever to accomplish basic tasks from anywhere.

Want a ride? Request an Uber. Need a snack? Order from Grubhub. Miss your mom? Shoot her a text. But smartphones and tablets also made it easier to do work from anywhere, whether that's during your lunch break, in the car on the way home, after hours or on vacation. It's a reality of the new technological age that's butting up against most peoples' hopes for a strong work-life balance.

When you can take your work with you anywhere, are you ever truly off the clock? This is the question many employees are grappling with today -- and enterprise IT, tech vendors and even governments are starting to take more notice. In 2017, France instituted a law requiring some companies to set hours when employees cannot send or respond to emails. A New York City councilman introduced a similar bill in March. Swaths of new apps such as Moment and QualityTime have come out to help individuals monitor their mobile device usage. But sometimes the draw of that little push notification is just too much, and we can't help ourselves.

So, can the IT department help? Or rather, should they?

Mobile device usage monitoring kicks up

Some businesses have put into place internal HR policies that help limit employees' after-hours work habits. But especially in the U.S., there hasn't been a huge push for individual companies to govern their workers' mobile device usage. Organizations create wellness programs, institute healthy menus and encourage socializing for employees' well-being. And yet, limiting smartphone use isn't a major focus, despite that fact that studies show how harmful it can be to mental and even physical health -- particularly around work-related stress.

Now, major mobile vendors such as Apple and Google are taking steps to help users get a better grip on their mobile device usage. The upcoming iOS 12 includes a new Screen Time dashboard that shows reports on how much a user accesses each app, how much time they spend on certain activities such as social networking, and how many notifications they receive from those apps. A new setting called Downtime allows users to configure time periods where only certain apps and phone calls will be available. Google's next operating system iteration, Android P, will have similar reports and allow users to set limits for use of individual apps.

These features currently seem to be aimed at consumers, marketed with flashy goals like kicking your Facebook addiction. But they could have uses in the enterprise. For iOS or Android devices enrolled in enterprise mobility management, it's possible that IT administrators could get involved in monitoring device usage and even setting policies that require users to set limits on their screen time. Imagine if your company had a rule that you could only check your email once, and use it for no more than 10 minutes, after 5:00 p.m. And with these new OS features, IT could actually track and enforce it.

Privacy is one complicating factor, however. It's well-traversed territory today that users value -- and require -- their privacy when it comes to both work and personal data. That could make it difficult for a business to get involved in monitoring its employees' individual mobile device usage, especially outside the office.

With employees' digital health and happiness at stake, it's a good time for IT pros to start thinking about how organizations can help their workers better balance their mobile working habits.

Article 4 of 6
This was last published in July 2018

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How do you make an effort to limit your own smartphone usage?
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Maybe they could try a combination of BYOD and time-fencing features to prevent employees from over-spending time on their mobile devices for work? 
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