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The Dark Side of Always On

Technology can be our best friend, and technology can also be the biggest party pooper of our lives. It interrupts our own story, interrupts our ability to have a thought or a daydream, to imagine something wonderful, because we're too busy bridging the walk from the cafeteria back to the office on the cell phone.
--Steven Spielberg

My job keeps me on the road more than I care to admit. I don't want to spoil my day by looking, but I believe that I have banked well over 300,000 frequent flier miles. Yes, some of those miles were earned outside of actual air travel, but even if I lop 75,000 miles off the top, that's still a lot of crisscrossing around the country. In fact, I'm writing this very article from a hotel while on the road.

However, not once during all those days of hotels, airports, conference rooms, and freeway driving through unfamiliar cities did I ever set an out-of-office greeting on my voicemail system. Why not? Because for all extents and purposes, I really wasn't away from work. I may not have been sitting at my desk in Bloomington, Minnesota or in my home office in Saint Paul, but I was still working and why would I want tell anyone otherwise? Who cares if a few calls roll to voicemail? That's no different than any other day.

So, how do I create this mobile office? With SIP, of course -- SIP and my collection of mobile devices. Alongside my Instagram, Snapseed, Pandora, and Facebook apps, I run Avaya Communicator for voice calls and Microsoft Skype for Business for presence and instant message on my iPhone and iPad. Call me at my office number and not only will the 9641 sitting on my desk ring, but so will my cadre of soft clients. You will have no idea that two or three devices are ringing and neither will you know which one I intend to answer. The same holds true for my Skype for Business client. If you send me an instant message you will not be able to tell if I respond from my PC or one of my mobile devices. It doesn't matter if I am in California, Michigan, or New York. You can always reach me in the exact same ways. I am available on-the-move as much as I am stationary.

The downside to always being reachable is that, well, I am always reachable. If you are a business traveler like me, you understand that being away from home means that you are constantly working. I take work calls early in the morning, and I take them late at night. If I can respond to an instant message, I will. To be perfectly honest, though, I get bored sitting in hotel rooms, and I would much rather help a coworker with a problem or speak with a customer about an idea than watch another rerun of Seinfeld.

Sadly, I also take calls, chats, and emails at home and after work hours (said as if such a thing exists), but I am learning to not feel guilty when I ignore an incoming alert. I recently read that companies such as Volkswagen and BMW are shutting down email for employees off the clock. I wouldn't be surprised if telephone numbers were going offline, too. I am not sure if I am ready for that, but perhaps that means that I am the ideal candidate for an after-hours communications blackout. "Hello, my name is Andrew Prokop and I am a unified communications addict."

With any new technology there is good and there is bad. Social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter have enabled one or two degrees of separation between billions of people, but they have also helped to reduce conversations to sound bites (sound bytes?). I am all for new tools and technologies, but balance, restraint, and common sense need to be applied.

Okay, I am climbing down from the soapbox now. My phone is ringing and I have to tweet this blog out right away. Feel free to call me later. Trust me, I am always available.

Andrew Prokop writes about all things unified communications on his popular blog, SIP Adventures.

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