German companies for the most part remain very much in control of employee cell phones, and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is only just beginning to see some traction. But some German companies have also begun to encourage their employees to shut down company email when they go home in order to restore their work-life balance.
I spent last week in Berlin, and on the plane from Munich I noticed that the man next to me was using an older BlackBerry. Since I don't see many of those anymore, it caught my eye. Moments later he took out an iPhone. When I asked him about it, he told me the BlackBerry was issued by his company and the iPhone was his personal phone. The company did not have a BYOD policy and strictly controlled his work phone.
I wondered if this was common, so I started asking around.
I got some good insight from Brock McCormack, an international spokesperson at Hannover Messe, a trade fair company based in Hannover, Germany. He says his company issues a strictly controlled BlackBerry, and this is still common practice in Germany.
"It is true that my Blackberry is strictly controlled but, as I understand it, this is common practice at many German companies. IT security is one of the highest enterprise priorities (if not the highest) here, " he told me.
He said from a personal standpoint, this can be frustrating, but he understands why the phones are so strictly controlled. "My employer is providing me with a mobile device for my job. If I want a flashy phone for personal use, I can purchase one and do as I please with it. I personally don’t see the need to do this, since I have TwinBill, which allows me to have one device (the Blackberry) with a work number and a private number. I now have only the Blackberry, plus an iPad at home."
He added that many of his colleagues do want a more modern phone, and those employees (like the man on the plane from Munich) buy their own smartphone for personal use.
Some German companies have begun reacting to the idea of having a work-life balance by encouraging employees not to check work or email after they leave the office at the end of the day. The New York Times reported at the end of last year that German auto maker Daimler has taken the unusual step of allowing employees to delete emails during vacation so they don't return to a flood of email. Instead, the vacation message refers emailers to another employee.
Sabrina Schrimpf, a Daimler spokeswoman, is quoted in the article as saying, "No one is expected to be on call at all hours of the day and night, and switching off after work is important, even if you are on a business trip."
The BBC reported at the end of 2011, that Volkswagen has instituted a policy of having the email servers stop sending emails to some employees after work hours. The rule doesn't apply to senior management.
The attitude seems quite different from the U.S.: I've heard some people in the U.S. say that they welcome having a smartphone because it allows them greater flexibility to be home earlier or to see their child's soccer game and still be in touch at work.
Regardless, it seems clear that there are a different set of policies, priorities, and concerns around employee cell phone use in Germany. On one hand many companies are maintaining strict control and still using older BlackBerries. On the other, there is a growing concern here about being hyperconnected and there is a movement afoot to help employees maintain a better work-life balance.