Is the always-on culture dead? The French think so
28 February 2017 -
At a time when everyone was seeing the New Year in, the French were introducing a new law – the so-called ‘right to disconnect from technology’
Guest blogger Chris Wright
Should closing down your email be added to the list of de-stressors? As of Sunday 1st January, not sending emails outside of normal working hours has been introduced as a law in France and is intended to help works disconnect and switch-off when they are at home.
I was first made aware of this idea in 2016 when Hugh Schofield published the article ‘The plan to ban work emails out of hours’ for the BBC News Magazine where it was mentioned that “…companies of more than 50 people will be obliged to draw up a charter of good conduct, setting out the hours - normally in the evening and at the weekend - when staff are not supposed to send or answer emails.”
It would seem that in the European Union small companies, generally defined as having less than 50 employees, will be exempt from the right to disconnect. This would therefore seem to protect their creative business capabilities and agility.
It also needs to be made clear that the right to disconnect does not just solely relate to the use of smartphones, as is widely reported, as it is the “right to disconnect from technology” which includes laptops, smartwatches, tablets and any other device that can be used to access Wi-Fi.
So if you need to draw-up a charter of good conduct, what should you consider?
SET-OUT THE WORKING HOURS
I think it is pretty well-known that the working week in France extends to 35 hours and 7 hours per day. Assuming employees have a one hour lunch break this would mean the core office hours are 9am to 5pm.
But this presents the first challenge, does the lunchbreak form part of the “right to disconnect from technology”?
I would imagine it does not as the timing of lunch breaks can be quite flexible.
Once the core hours are clarified, the easiest way is to check employee contracted hours as hours will vary, it would also make sense to communicate this to customers.
One very easy way to do this is to include the core hours in the employee’s electronic signature and a statement to say that emails will not be read or sent outside of the normal working day.
This will not mean that fellow employees or customers will stop sending emails, however, and ‘email jams’ will no doubt occur and is still a potential trigger for employee stress. The company charter may also want to consider how to manage communications in “exceptional circumstances” as part of an ‘on-call’ employee roster.
SET-OUT THE NON-WORKING HOURS
So the core hours have been clarified, now the same needs to be done for the out of hours. This includes the after work hours (i.e., the other 17 hours in the day), weekends, public holidays and vacations.
Serious thought needs to be given to how email traffic will be regulated. Can this be done by company servers? Indeed, the car manufacturer Volkswagen uses company servers to stop emails being sent and received from company-owned smartphones between 6.15 pm and 7.00 am Sunday through Saturday.
Although this policy applies only to full-time employees in Germany with union-negotiated contracts and excludes senior management, no doubt the same policy could be extended to all employees and to all technology devices.
There is also the question of how to manage emails while an employee is on vacation. The simplest approach is to set-up an automated out of office reply, but some employers, such as Germany’s Daimler, allow employees to have their emails deleted while on vacation.
CONSIDER DEFINING SIMPLE GUIDANCE TO ACCOMPANY ANY EMAIL POLICY
Any company charter should also consider the rules of email. Here are 10 simple steps to help manage emails whether you are based in France or not.
THE FUTURE OF DIGITAL
The advent of the ‘right to disconnect from technology’ in France raises important issues regarding the management of email in the workplace as a means of maintaining a work-life balance.
However, working in a digitally driven environment presents some interesting challenges as we spend more time online and invest more of our hard earned money into new technology and digital updates.
In all seriousness, managing email can be extremely stressful and can directly relate to email (such as the build-up of email) or indirectly (not being able to switch-off or being interrupted throughout the working day).
What we can take away from this is that you can switch off your email whether you are work or home. So why not put your device down and take a break.
Christopher Wright is the founder of Red Pharm Communications. His MBA dissertation researched the effect of email on worker performance and productivity. Read more @RedPharmCO on Twitter.
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