Technology allows workers to stay connected to the office 24/7

spauff@ledger-enquirer.comJanuary 29, 2012 

When Lucas Shaffer bought his iPad, he was only thinking about playing games.

“It started out as a personal device,” Shaffer said. “I wanted to be able to be entertained by Angry Birds.”

That changed when he started taking it to meetings with clients and staff at his small business, Stand and Stretch. There was an immediate “cool factor,” he said.

He uses the tablet to access his email and calendar while in meetings, as well as to look up information for clients and take and save notes that he can send to staff members with the tap of a finger.

“The tablet gets mad usage,” he said. Having the tablet means he has resources to help his clients immediately at hand, whenever he needs them -- even if it’s 11 p.m. and he’s at home. He said clients like to “tinker around” with their websites in the evenings and if they have questions or run into problems, he can respond quickly.

“That’s the kind of thing that spills into home life,” he said.

The line between home and office continues to blur, as use of personal devices at work and work devices at home has become more common. A recent IBM study revealed that 73 percent of businesses allow employees to connect to their networks using personal cell phones and tablets. In a recent informal poll by the Wall Street Journal of about 3,700 readers, 56 percent said they use work devices, like laptops and smartphones for personal use; another 28 percent said they use their own personal devices for work.

Shaffer said he never turns his iPad or phone off. Even on vacation, his phone sits next to him. The ringtone may be silenced, but a light blinks whenever he gets a call.

“We’re never really ever not at work anymore,” he said.

Jan Pease-Hyneman, who owns Jan Pease Marketing, said she used to be leery of technology; she liked being the kind of person who knew everyone’s number by heart. Now she uses a desktop and laptop computer for her business, as well as an iPad and iPhone that go with her everywhere. If she goes to a meeting without her mobile devices, she said she “gets the shakes.”

“It’s like a part of my body,” she said of her iPad. She checks her phone at dinner and sends emails at 2 a.m. She said clients and staff jokingly ask her if she ever sleeps, but that she has to stay connected for the health of her business.

“If you don’t reach out via email or Facebook, it’s lost business,” she said. “We live in a fast-paced society.”

Facebook is another place where the lines between what’s business and what’s personal can become murky. Molly Wright Starkweather, a former Columbus State University English instructor now teaching at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, said she keeps profiles on Facebook and Google Plus based on her interests. She uses Facebook to keep up with campus events and opportunities and also plans on using the site to get advice and help with her applications to Ph.d. programs.

“Social media has helped de-mystify so much about my work and educational prospects,” she wrote in an email.

Starkweather said she does not befriend students until they are no longer enrolled in her course, but she likes keeping up with former students on Facebook. She recalled logging onto Facebook one day and finding out that a former student -- a soldier who struggled with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder while in her class -- had gotten married.

“I remember hoping that he could work through the illness and overcome it. He overcame it. I got to see it. I got to see him happy,” she wrote. “And even though that moment of happiness was over a year after he came to my office hours to ask for help, I felt encouraged that being available and doing my job and making accommodations for him was worth it on a level at which a paycheck could never match.”

Starkweather has personal guidelines she sets for each social networking site.

She keeps her LinkedIn profile as public as possible, but keeps her Facebook page extremely private.

She said she didn’t want employers to know potentially discriminating information, like when she and her husband plan to have children.

“Cyber-life is as much or as little a reflection of real life as a person wants it to be,” she said.

Meg Burkhardt, director the CARE center at Columbus Technical College, advises students on choosing a career path, building a resume and networking. She said social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn can be great ways to find jobs and network, but postings to the sites can also affect how an employer views a potential hire.

“If you dropped a piece of paper with your name and that on it, would you mind anyone picking it up?” she said.

Burkhardt advises students to clean up their pages, use good grammar -- “Street language should stay in the street” -- and to avoid posting when they are angry.

“That attitude may be the snapshot an employer gets.”

Students should not expect any information they post on the Internet to be private, even if they enable the privacy controls on their Facebook pages. “Privacy is a thing of the past,” she said. “Those tight little circles we used to draw around portions of our lives -- those are blurred now. If you join a social network, you blur the line even more.”

Sara Pauff, 706-320-4469

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