The news that France plans to ban work email out of hours creates a natural question whether other countries will invoke similar measures to help protect employees from the always-on environment that increasing access to capable mobile devices and ubiquitous network connectivity has created. The answer is probably “No”, on the basis that few other countries take the same smothering attitude to workforce behavior as is found in France. Even there, I wonder if this program will be any more successful than the 2000 measure to introduce the 35-hour work week that was scrapped this week.
The 35-hour work week was policed by inspectors who monitored the comings and goings of employees at major companies to ensure that everyone went home at the right time. Of course, once people reached home, they connected to work systems with their home computers and carried on working, which rather spoilt the whole idea.
According to reports about the new initiative, “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.”
I guess some people will pay attention to the charter of good conduct in the same way that people don’t sneeze into their hand or drop chewing gum on the carpet. However, human nature makes it a fair bet that most will keep on looking at their iPhones or other mobile devices in response to the electronic buzz n’ burr that lets them know about the arrival of Facebook updates, WhatsApp messages, tweets, and work email.
I’m not sure that people think that they are “connected to the office by a kind of electronic leash like a dog”. I’ve certainly never viewed Outlook in that light, but I can see how people feel under pressure to respond to email that arrives after they’ve left work, especially when the email comes from someone higher up the corporate hierarchy looking for action on a matter ASAP.
France could appoint government inspectors to check that people aren’t reading work email when they shouldn’t, but it’s kind of hard to tell what is a work email and what is not. It’s not a case of using a consumer email system rather than a corporate system as lots of work gets done using Gmail.com or Outlook.com. You can’t even tell the difference in the appearance as a work message looks much the same as a note from your maiden aunt, excepting of course that the message from your maiden aunt probably doesn’t include some corporate logos and an autosignature warning of dire consequences should the message be read by an unauthorized person.
No one has yet called for software blocks to be instituted to stop work email being read out of hours but it can’t be long before some under-informed legislator makes such a demand. Of course, it’s totally impractical and probably illegal for a government to impose such a block, but they might ask software vendors to incorporate options to allow users to disable the arrival of new email outside the working day as a sort of “flight mode” for email. Given the number of options that already exist to customize email clients, adding another wouldn’t be a huge stretch for email vendors.
In any case, while we wait for the fuss and bother to settle down and reality to replace fantasy, software is already available to help people understand how they spend their time. Delve Analytics, part of the E5 plan for Microsoft Office 365 and available as an add-on for other plans ($4/user per month), provides an overview of after-hours activity in the personal dashboard that’s available to users. That ability might make Delve Analytics popular in France if the move to ban work email outside work hours ever gains traction.
User activities are traced using the information gathered in the Microsoft Graph. Right now, only meetings and email activities are measured so the information shown doesn’t provide a full picture of work done outside office hours, but Microsoft is bound to include measurement of other areas such as document creation in Delve Analytics in the future.
As you can see from the screenshot, in the week that was analyzed, I spent 1.5 hours in meetings after-hours and 7.4 hours processing email, so I would probably be a serial offender in the eyes of French lawmakers. Oh well… it won’t be the first time that my work habits have been frowned upon by some and it probably won’t be the last.
C’est la vie.
Follow Tony @12Knocksinna