Ubiquitous Availability: results from the online survey.

Interactive agencies are not hospitals and agency are not doctors. But many agencies expect the same access to their workers that hospitals have to doctors — and without the professional autonomy doctors enjoy.

A very large number of interactive agency workers make themselves available for work outside regular hours, and mobile technologies are allowing them to do it.

A mere 5% of agency workers who completed this survey (n=59) do not respond to work demands outside of regular hours. A full 90% say they’re available during the evening, and even an astounding 44% say they’re available DURING THE NIGHT. It makes you wonder what they are expecting to happen while everyone else is asleep.

The mobile technology that companies issue is helping with this expectation of what I call “ubiquitous availability.” This chart notes that over three quarters of these workers are equipped with laptops, but only 8% with a mobile phone and 17% with a BlackBerry.

The expectation of ubiquitous availability is so strong almost three quarters of workers use their PERSONAL mobile phones for work purposes, and another quarter use their personal BlackBerrys. My qualitative research has told me that recouping the air time costs for these is very difficult.

Indeed, over half of workers are usually contacted on their personal cell phones, as seen in this chart. Yet few companies have consistent policies around personal cell phone use, or reimbursement procedures to ensure workers can expense their air time. This suggests that ubiquitous availability is being paid for often by workers themselves. Even doctors can expense their beepers and BlackBerrys. Many of the agency workers in this study cannot.

Agency workers are likely unsurprised by these findings. But agency managers might be. Agency workers predictably get tired of being available at all hours. They get downright pissed off if they have to pay the cost of that availability. Recruiters and managers take note of a few small changes:

  1. Articulate clear policies about private/work time. What constitutes a need to contact workers at home? When can workers expect to 100% reserve their private time for themselves? The right to restrict access during private time is enjoyed by most workers. Even doctors are not always “on call.”
  2. Equip workers with the proper tools if ubiquitous availability is expected. If workers are expected to be available, employers should pay for them to have the tools they need. If this is too expensive for the company, then workers should simply not be contacted, period. Project managers specifically should be empowered to restrict access to their team members because the cost of that access is not borne by the client.
  3. Provide opportunities for workers to opt-out of availability. Do not assume that a personal cell phone number can and should be shared readily. Provide specific guidelines why that number is needed, and adhere to limits workers place on that access. If workers must “voluntarily” submit, they likely will provide the number even if they don’t want to. Workers who put limits on availability should never be penalized, even subtly.

Agency work is not “saving lives,” as one of my research participants told me. There is no reason for ubiquitous availability and agencies should respect that.


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