How to stop tech ruining your home life

A few years ago, we were told that in future we could forget the daily commute, because we’d all be working from home. Futurologists told global mega-corporations they’d be able to close down their office towers, since the only space they’d need in 2010 would be a massive server room stacked full of big iron.

All of their home-working employees would hook into this behemoth using ultra-fast, fibre-optic broadband connections, and meetings would take place virtually by video conference. These crystal-ball gazers really couldn’t have got it more wrong if they’d tried.

The fundamental mistake that those future-gazers made was in prescribing teleworking as an alternative to office-based working, when in fact it has become an adjunct

There are some people who work from home – either full-time or just a few days a week – but that massive shift to home-based working simply hasn’t happened. In fact, some companies that experimented with a home-based workforce have quietly brought them back into the office and re-assimilated them.

The other side of the prediction proved totally wrong too, because rather than turning into vast server hangars, a combination of virtualisation, outsourcing and Cloud computing have meant that big corporations now operate with a server room the size of a broom cupboard. Ultra-fast broadband and video conferencing? No sign of the former, and the latter seems to be universally detested.

But the fundamental mistake that those future-gazers made was in prescribing teleworking as an alternative to office-based working, when in fact it has become an adjunct. More and more of us are working at home as well as in our ivory tower (or dingy basement if you happen to work for me!).

The invention of smartphones, push email, mobile broadband and connected laptops means that for many of us “9-to-5” is sadly a thing of the past and the working day now extends into the evening, while the week spills over into the weekend. Put your hand up if you take your smartphone to bed with you, and check your email as soon as you wake, before you get out of bed. I reckon there are a lot of hands in the air right now…

I don’t think this situation is likely to change, so the best we can do is make the extended working day as stress-free as possible, which mostly involves making sure we have the right technology to hand and that it works.

So here are my three tips for using your smartphone and laptop at home:

Smartphone tip 1

Use your phone’s built-in profile and message-filtering abilities to prioritise incoming email. It’s 8pm, but the email is from your boss or your firm’s top client, and the word “URGENT” appears in its subject line, so you might want to take a look at it – whereas if it’s from Amazon recommending you buy Rolf Harris’ Christmas in the Sun (because you once ordered Cliff sings Carols for your nan) then you probably won’t want to be disturbed.

Vodafone H1Each mobile operating system has its own facilities for managing alert profiles, and these can usually be enhanced using third-party add-ons that help you ensure that when your “at home” profile is selected, you’ll only be bothered by the really important messages.

Smartphone tip 2

That urgent email from your boss might include his latest PowerPoint monstrosity, or perhaps a spreadsheet (which is probably really a database), so make sure your phone has good facilities for viewing and editing standard Office documents. This lets you flip through the presentation while sitting on the sofa, rather than having to get up and fire-up the laptop, and you’ll also be able to quickly correct the errors in your boss’ spreadsheet. Mobile Office apps is one (the only?) area where Windows Mobile has an edge over the rest of the smartphone OS contenders, which is hardly surprising given its Microsoft connection.

Many other platforms will supply third-party software such as Documents to Go from DataViz, and on some platforms you’ll get a read-only version supplied with your phone, but will need to stump up $30 or so for the full version. Trust me, it’s worth it, simply because it means you’ll be able to leave your laptop in its bag.

Smartphone tip 3

Never forget that there’s an “off” switch. (Actually, that isn’t true, because off the top of my head I can’t actually think of a single smartphone that has a physical switch to turn it off, but you know what I mean.) This might seem terribly obvious, but some people have a real problem hitting that switch, yet once they do it can be liberating – a small glimpse of the feeling you get when on holiday. (A holiday where you left your work phone at home, of course!)

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