Unless you are a Luddite, you will not have failed to appreciate how tech has transformed the work landscape. While offices were once a sea of paperwork, travel expense slips, fax machines, mobile phones the size of bricks, typewriters – you get the gist – the evolution of modern technology has consigned them all to history. Today, with high-speed internet, smartphones, IP telephony like Skype, social networking sites, chat apps, and cloud computing, the 21st-century work environment has been totally reshaped. With the touch of a button, distances have become immaterial and communication instantaneous. Knowledge is now shared freely, and things just get done faster.
Hand-in-hand with these technological advances comes a new workforce: an ever-expanding pool of digital nomads who are used to plugging in anywhere, at any time – a dynamic bunch who eschew the constraints of working from one set place and doing the standard 9-5. So far, so good but while mobile technology may have allowed us to move beyond the four walls of the traditional office, letting us work on the go, this digital revolution does not come without its downsides.
Taking it too far
There is a thin line between utilizing technology so it is beneficial and taking it too far. Sadly, a growing number of people are overstepping it: we are always reading our emails, chatting on WhatsApp and communicating via social media. Indeed, We Are Social and Hootsuite’s latest report revealed that in 2018 for the fourth straight year, Filipinos spent more time online, on social media, than anywhere else in the world. The country’s overall time online was second only to Thailand. In the Philippines, time spent online daily soared from 9 hours and 29 minutes in 2017 to 10 hours and 2 minutes in 2018, compared to the global average of 6 hours and 42 minutes.
In short, we are addicted to tech – and it is eroding our time and attention, particularly in the workplace. Every time our smartphone buzzes or our laptop pings, we get distracted. If our line of thought is interrupted, it takes a while to get back on track. Precious time, lost.
However, the misuse of tech can do more than compromise productivity, it can impact our mental health. The new ‘always on’ culture is blurring the distinction between work and life. According to a Deloitte report, more than one-third of consumers worldwide said they check their phone within five minutes of waking up in the morning.
We don’t give ourselves a digital break and this can, according to Deloitte Insights, lead to stress and anxiety, depression, poor sleep and physical disconnection.
So while technology in the workplace is a blessing, it can also be a curse. After all, what business wants a preoccupied, ineffective, stressed-out employee? Luckily, there are ways to achieve a more balanced approach to technology. Here are a few steps to make this possible:
Having the right company culture when it comes to technology goes a long way in moderating usage.
A healthy tech policy, with clear communication guidelines, is vital. Ensure, for example, that team members are aware of when remote workers are online and when it is and is not appropriate to contact them. Create awareness through talks and workshops of how overuse of devices can have detrimental effects.
Help employees understand what is expected of them, especially when it comes to working hours. Make sure there is a clear end point to their day and that you do not overstep it. Just because it is possible to contact a colleague when they are not in the office, does not mean they should be. Likewise, as an employee, if you are working remotely, set your hours and stick to them.
Make productivity count
If you want your workforce to understand that disconnecting is ok, put the emphasis on productivity rather than availability. Staff should not be rewarded for being at the end of a smartphone to answer an email from the boss past working hours; rather, they should be given credit for completing a great piece of work on schedule.
It sounds ironic, but tech can be used as a means of avoidance. Give employees access to screen-time apps, such as Space, Freedom or Moment, which can remind them to take a break if they have been emailing or texting for long periods, curb social media use and create blocklists.
Take a break
For office-based employees, introduce a daily tech-free break when all devices are unplugged. Encourage employees to use the time to gather thoughts over a coffee, catch up with a colleague or go for a distraction-free stroll. Some companies also limit or forbid staff from sending business emails after hours; even going so far as deleting any messages employees might receive on holiday.
Stick to the plan
Once you have policies in place, make sure everyone sticks to them. If managers and team leaders are constantly checking their phones, it sends the wrong message. Those at the top should be inspiring the team to use their smartphones as a means of efficiency, not as a distraction.
Keep it real
Encourage face-to-face meetings and social interaction with colleagues. There is nothing like a group lunch or a brainstorm to foster team spirit and get the creative juices flowing. When a get-together takes place, ensure that it is a screen-free zone. If seeing people in person is not possible, encourage employees to stay connected in real time by picking up the phone instead of sending texts or emails. Sometimes, it is good to talk.
By: Lars Wittig, Country Manager Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, South Korea, IWG.