How-to Gain Work/Life Balance on your Android Phone

In an ideal world your employer would provide you with a “Work Phone” so you can easily and physically separate your work from your personal life by turning off/physically discarding the device. Unfortunately one of the largest employers1 in the UK doesn’t routinely offer this for a large proportion of their workforce. This results in work inevitably encroaching on personal time either through unwanted phone calls, group messages, pleading e-mails and other distractions.

Recent (and old) discussions on Twitter have once again highlighted the different ‘hacks’ that people have developed to gain some sort of separation. This has finally prompted me to finally writeup the different components/options/evolution of my solution to this problem over the years.

Fair warning: The easiest and simplest solution with the best experience is to just get a separate “Work Phone” what follows is a ‘hack’ to avoid this you have been warned.

How-to Guide

⚠️ First and most importantly a disclaimer:

This is not an idiot’s-guide with detailed step-by-step instructions and as such requires some savvy, intuition and ability to seek out manuals/guides/documentation. No support or help beyond this post will be provided.

Obviously no liability is accepted for damage, expense, data-loss, missed calls etc. etc. caused by following these ideas. Do so entirely at your own risk.

The requirements we are trying to achieve are to effectively merge two phones into one so we have the following functionality:

Step 1. Acquire another Phone Number

There are two options here each with different pros. and cons. and unfortunately only one provides “full” functionality as described above.

Option A: Dual SIM

This is the preferred option although it requires a phone that supports Dual SIM cards. Fortunately you may already have one and not realise. There are two types of Dual SIM phone: Two physical SIM cards OR eSIM and SIM card (more common).

In the UK there are only a limited number of networks that provide an eSIM. This means you may need to think carefully about what network to chose (particularly as there are no networks that provide an eSIM on PAYG plans currently). You may need to switch your current plan to an eSIM so you can use the physical SIM for your new number.



Option B: Use a SIP number (e.g Sipgate)

The alternative (and admittedly slightly more complex to set-up) is to use a VOIP provider to get a SIP number you can use to make and receive calls over WiFi and/or Mobile Data.

The breakthrough here was provided to me in this wonderful blog post by Terence Eden introducing SIPGate Basic who provide a free UK PAYG SIP number (most other providers usualy charge line-rental).

If you decide to go down this route there a number of important points to note:



Step 2. The Magic (getting WhatsApp to work)

There are some options here that depend on the manufacture of your phone. There are different pros. and cons. depending on how you proceed.

Option A: Manufacture provided

Samsung has the Dual Messenger feature on some of their phones. Most OnePlus phones have the slightly more flexible Parallel Apps feature.



Option B: Shelter

Shelter is an App that enables you to use the “Work Profile” feature of phones running Android 7 “Nougat” and above (phone released after late 2016) to create isolated copies of other Apps on your phone.

It is important to note that you can NOT run Shelter on a phone that already has a Work Profile enabled (or on Samsung/OnePlus phones that are using their manufacture provided solution as above).



Step 3.

There is no step 3. Unless you count trying to erase all trace of your personal number at work and replace it with you new “work” phone number.

Other tasks to consider also include:

Known Issues

  1. The NHS, which is also one of the largest employers in the world. Though admittedly responsibility of “Work Phones” etc. is really that of the individual employing NHS organisations as “The NHS” isn’t really an institution but that is a much larger footnote…