When I was growing up, my father was the financial director of a well known dairy firm. Although I was far too young to understand what the terms meant, I knew that month-end, quarter-end and worst of all year-end were times to be dreaded as I wouldn't see my father for days on end. And occasionally, 'the office' would demand his attention for the odd weekend or trip away, and even once in a while the phone would ring late in the evening because 'the mainframe' had gone down, and he would need to go in to help the IT team who were looking to restore it.
However, come our annual two week vacation, he was all ours. Work never penetrated that time, and we had his wholehearted attention.
Fast forward now to my children, and the roll of their eyes when the dreaded smartphone penetrates the airplane cabin as we're about to take off because 'mum's forgotten to turn it off again.' We pride ourselves that we are working smartly and flexibly by doing those emails late at night after the kids have gone to bed, rather than dare admit that we may have become slaves to the new technologies. So, in an age where the office and home blur into one in many instances, where should we draw the line on holidays?
Talking to my colleagues over the past few weeks, it feels to me that a new view of what's acceptable is emerging if we are to maintain the balance between harmony with our friends and family, getting the break that we no doubt need in today's challenging business world, and keeping on top of the job so that we don't find the dreaded backlog of emails wipes out the benefit of the holiday within the first twenty four hours back! There is definitely a backlash against the individual who is 'always on' these days, and particularly the impact such individuals have on their staff if they too feel pressured to be on call.
So some of the tips for the CIO:
1: Firstly, make sure you have delegated clearly before you leave and made it very clear when you're away, when (if) you are contactable and the best methods of getting in touch. Set an expectation that you'll respond to an urgent text as soon as you can, but emails won't necessarily get read until you return. Then your team are clear on how to get your attention if needed.
2: Agree with your family/friends a time of day when you are allowed to read your emails. My kids generously let me have the hour before breakfast, as they're not morning people. Then they put my phone in the safe, and don't tell me the code! And set yourself a standard for what you will and won't respond to. It's tempting to just reply to that niggling little issue and sort it now rather than wait for your return, but will the world end if you do? Concentrate only on the things where delay will have a material impact.
3: Smartphones are acceptable, but taking your laptop seems to be viewed far more negatively in the straw poll I took. The Ipad therefore treads a dangerous path in between the two, no matter how much you convince yourself that you're taking it for the e-reader, games, multimedia. To me, anything that involves attachments should be out of bounds on holiday. That needs far too much concentration!
4: My audience were split on the topic of conference calls. One or two said that if critical meetings fell within the holiday timeframe, it was far more stressful to not dial in than to set aside the hour and plan accordingly. I have to say though the sound of clinking drinks and splashing from the pool at the other end of a conference call really grates, and it often feels like people are being seen to be present rather than really contributing. So... only do it if you have to. And ask that you go first in the agenda and dial off as soon as possible. And far better still, send your views on the topics on the agenda to the chair person a few days before you go, and reserve the right to confirm any decisions that get taken after the event.
5: On old tip, but one that everyone nodded at, was to take a notebook and keep it with you. Then when that nightmare thought of something you've forgotten about comes in to your mind, you can quickly park it and turn your attention to it at a more appropriate time. I also find that when I relax on holiday, my sub-conscious starts to work on some of the more intractable issues I'm facing, and some really creative solutions flit through my mind. The notebook comes into its own then – although make sure you don't get too enthusiastic until the last Mojito has cleared your system!
6: And last but not least, protect your first day back with a vengeance! You need that to work through the backlog and ensure that you prioritise. That should ensure that the feel good factor of the holiday lasts longer than the tan.
So have a great holiday – you've earned it! And if you spot me being a Blackberry bore by the pool, feel free to reprimand me!