Tag Archives: Digital detox

Should out-of-hours work emails be banned?

How often do you spend your day going from meeting to meeting, only to settle into an evening tackling an overflowing email inbox? Well, you may wish that you worked in France, where the government has put forward a law that puts an end to out-of-hours emailing.

The proposed labour reform plans to introduce the “right to disconnect”. If passed, it will require companies to set standards outlining when staff are not obliged to respond to emails.

Of course, the issue of responding to work emails out of hours is not new. We know that constant connectivity to work can have negative consequences, such as stress, anxiety, and work encroaching on home life. As a result, many companies have started to rethink their 24/7 connectivity. For example, Volkswagen made headlines by switching off servers that send emails to employees outside of working hours to prevent stress and burnout, while Daimler implemented an auto-delete policy for emails that arrive while employees are on leave.

However, what might worry employers even more is the impact of constant connectivity on their employees’ productivity, creativity, and ability to focus. For example, did you know that the mere presence of your phone near you can distract you? This is because your phone represents limitless possibilities for connections.

And there’s more – if you have a tendency to check emails late at night on your phone or tablet, beware: research shows that this can have consequences well into the next day, as your phone impairs your sleep and you start work the next day already depleted.

All of this has fuelled a drive for disconnection from technology, which can be seen in the growing trend of the digital detox. The blogosphere is awash with people extolling the benefits of taking a digital sabbatical, and another somewhat ironic trend is the use of productivity apps, such as the Freedom app, to help people switch off and focus. Camp Grounded takes the digital detox even further: a summer camp for adults, it encourages participants to leave technology at the gate and swap constant connectivity for outdoor activities.

Does this sound overly drastic, a bit new-ageish? Perhaps. But the benefits are clear: disconnection from technology in favour of immersion in nature for a few days helps to increase performance on tasks requiring creativity and problem solving; skills that are essential in a knowledge economy.

Can technology be controlled?

However, a digital detox may only be available to those in secure positions who have no fear of losing their jobs. And even the ability to make use of a “right to disconnect” outside of work hours may be easier in theory than in practice.

Many people do not have a fixed working pattern, and indeed working preferences vary – for some, emailing late at night is convenient, rather than stressful. These kinds of issues also vary hugely depending on a company’s sector, and on the location of its customers and competitors. A government-introduced blanket ban cannot account for these variations.

It also raises bigger questions around privacy and workers’ autonomy to manage their digital connections in whatever way they want. For example: how will employers manage those who continue to email outside of the set hours? Will there be penalties? Who will monitor emailing patterns and is it okay to do so?

Lastly, the speed of technological progress is not matched by government regulation. The proposed French regulation would come into effect in 2018. By then, will we still be as concerned with emails? New systems, enterprise social networks and apps used by companies such as Slack, are already transforming how people communicate at work. It is doubtful that the regulation will be flexible enough to cope with new developments.

So, are there merits in the French proposal? Yes, if the new regulation gives employees the power to control their level of connectivity. Yes, if it reduces expectations of employees to be constantly available regardless of actual need. And yes, if it leads to conversations about facilitating different working styles.

Currently, there is no proposed penalty for violating the “right to disconnect” and companies will comply on a voluntary basis. The real value of the reform therefore lies not in its ability to regulate constant connectivity, but in potentially generating conversations between employers and employees about what their culture of connectivity should be.

If the reform leads to such conversations, then it may be a useful model for other countries to observe. If, however, the reform hampers the ability of French businesses to compete and does not deliver a positive impact on people’s work-life balance, then other countries should not follow suit.

Further information

Dr Nora Koslowski is from Anglia Ruskin University’s Lord Ashcroft International Business School.

How to do a ‘digital detox’

We’ve all been there before. You’re walking through campus, looking down at your phone to see what a friend just tweeted, read an email from a pro­fessor, or check to see if the men’s bas­ket­ball team won the night before.

Next thing you know, you stumble over a curb or come way too close to walking into someone. Tech­nology is an impor­tant part of today’s world, but it can also be a dis­trac­tion from what’s hap­pening around you in the moment.

If you are looking to under­take a “dig­ital detox” this year, here are some tips to help you con­quer a reliance on technology.

Trea­sure quiet

Shiyko noted that this can be cul­ti­vated in just a few min­utes a day, sim­ilar to the way one would ease into a habit of exer­cising. She rec­om­mended sit­ting qui­etly for a few min­utes and reflecting or lis­tening to a guided med­i­ta­tion or taking a walk alone.

When you are in the moment you really aren’t inter­ested in dis­tracting your­self because there is nothing to dis­tract from. Your­self is enough.

Many people today use social media as a tool to learn more about them­selves, based on what others say about them. In fact, people can learn more about them­selves by lis­tening to them­selves.

Start small

Going cold turkey might not work for everyone, so Shiyko sug­gested exper­i­menting with what works best for you, such as set­ting a cer­tain time during the day to be media free.

Try changing one thing at a time, and then pausing to eval­uate it and see if it works for you, If it works, then imple­ment it. If not, simply dis­card it and try some­thing else.

Dis­able auto­matic sound notifications

As ani­mals, humans are very con­di­tioned, Shiyko pointed out. And repeating a habit, such as imme­di­ately answering a text mes­sage, builds a mental neu­ropathway to strengthen that habit. By pausing and not acting on an impulse, you are begin­ning to break that habit little by little. The pause and aware­ness is very important.

Decide what you want

This doesn’t mean set­ting an ulti­mate goal for your­self, but rather real­izing that you are in charge.

You always have a choice, even when someone texts you or reaches out. It’s about get­ting out of this role of being a victim to tech­nology and rec­og­nizing you have the capacity to go one way or another.

Further information

Mariya Shiyko is assis­tant pro­fessor in the Depart­ment of Applied Psy­chology at Northeastern University, The State of Massachusetts

Digital detox – just switch off sometimes

The term “digital detox” has already found its way into the renowned Oxford English Dictionary, where it is described as “a period of time during which a person refrains from using electronic devices such as smartphones or computers.

Also known as “smartphone fasting,” the process is supposed to lower users’ stress levels and help them focus more consciously on communication with the physical world and their fellow human beings. Digital detox offers an antidote to the option of being online anytime, anywhere. The message behind it is that sometimes you are perfectly entitled to simply switch off your smartphone or other digital device.

Deutsche Telekom expressly supports this idea, and is even launching a television advertisement about the Heins family, which will air in Germany from November 21. In this ad, the members of the family decide to take a break from their digital devices for Christmas, enjoying a traditional German Christmas Eve celebration together without smartphones or the Internet. The spot ends with the phrase “merry unplugged Christmas,” underscoring the importance of face-to-face communication in personal relationships.

Television advertisement Heins family

At first glance, it might appear contradictory that a company like Deutsche Telekom should appeal to people to go without digital communication sometimes. After all, we make our money selling products and services for connected life and work – products and services that users can access in best-network quality 24/7.

But Deutsche Telekom sees no contradiction in marketing digital services and advising users to occasionally do without such services when they think it appropriate. The company has long been aware of the social responsibility that is part and parcel of its business activities, and has acted accordingly. In its own internal guidelines, Deutsche Telekom has formulated rules for business communications at weekends for those of its employees who have company smartphones. The guidelines are unambiguous: communication on business matters is generally taboo at weekends, and permissible in exceptional cases only. In this way, Deutsche Telekom has emphasized how seriously it takes concerns such as burnout and information overload. The company’s position is based on the conviction that digital communication will retain its value for people and society in the long term only if the communication services are used in a sensible and responsible manner.

This conviction not only finds expression in our employee guidelines, it also shapes the dialog we maintain with our customers across many different channels. The majority of our customers associate Deutsche Telekom with high performance, technical expertise, innovative strength and professionalism.

That means not only offering compelling digital communication services, but also advocating the safe and responsible use of digital communication forms. Internet communication, the use of smartphones and tablets, comprehensive information and a wide range of entertainment via online television – all these are intended to make life easier and more interesting, strengthen relationships between people, open up new perspectives and make possible innovative ways of working. But these benefits of digital communication presuppose that the users always bear one thing in mind – namely that online connections are only one aspect of daily life and experience. Much more important are personal encounters and experiences, which ultimately form one of the foundations of digital communication.

Deutsche Telekom is already involved in many projects to promote the responsible use of modern communication media. In the Teachtoday Initiative, for example, we are providing parents and teachers with tips on how to instruct children and young people in the judicious use of these media. As more and more social and economic processes are digitalized, the importance of the careful use of digital communication tools will continue to increase. As a telecommunications leader, we will keep a watchful eye on this trend going forward.

Telecommunications connect people. And yet, Deutsche Telekom will continue to make people aware that simply switching off their digital devices – like the family in the ad at Christmas – can also be beneficial for personal relationships.

Digital Detox: How to switch off in a 24/7 world

 

Many years ago, in 1996, I interviewed Michael Dell, the billionaire founder of Dell Computers. We were sat in a grand room in the Institute of Directors on London’s elegant Pall Mall.

It was the early days of the internet, and I was intrigued to hear Dell talk about how he checked his emails late at night to stay in touch with colleagues around the world. If he was away from the internet for too long, he said, he began to suffer from “bandwidth separation anxiety”.

Michael Dell is a Geek Overlord and he was among the first to experience such feelings.

Today, those symptoms of internet addiction are common across the world.

A tsunami of information overwhelms us every day, leaving tens of millions tied to their devices at all hours. Created to boost productivity, smartphones are becoming weapons of mass distraction.

The fear of missing out, of not being “in the loop” when key decisions are made, the impact on delicate egos of not being liked or followed – all these factors mean that employees and managers live in a permanent and desperate frenzy of trying to stay connected.

Many organisations play to these fears. If the high performers in your company are always online, responding to emails and messages instantly, no matter what time of day or night, then it’s hard not to fall in line and join the undead.

Careers and lives might even depend on it. Many businesses use performance-tracking data as a management tool: if team members don’t rank highly on speed, accessibility and response times, then they’ll soon be tumbling down the leaderboard and, in the end, be shown the door.

It may seem impossible to resist this tide but, as was discussed in a CMI/Citrix GoToMeeting webinar this week, there’s more and more scientific evidence – as well as business common sense – to suggest that managers must begin reducing employees’ internet addiction.

Anxiety, depression and mental health disorders are rampant across the modern working world.

A 2014 YouGov/Microsoft survey found that 43% of 2,000 employees surveyed experienced stress from having to deal with too much information at work, with 34% saying that they felt ‘overwhelmed’.

Vivien Hudson is founder of Brain, Body, Business:

The likelihood of diabetes, heart disease and even depression are all increased in populations that spend large amounts of time sitting for extended periods of time.

David Smith, co-founder of Virtual Gurus and digital fluency lead at TMA World, describes himself as “a fanatical digital worker”, yet he’s deeply concerned about the mental health implications of modern working patterns. He points to World Health Organization research that says that a sedentary lifestyle is the fourth-largest global health issue, ahead even of obesity. “Sitting is the new smoking,” he says.

He also believes that digital detoxing is essential:

I actually wonder if it is us that ‘self impose’ the belief that we should be always connected and available – just because other colleagues are does not mean that we should!

Are we likely to be overlooked for a promotion because we are not constantly connected? I think not. What is vital is that we produce the right level/quality of work that our organisation/manager expects, not that we are available at all hours of the day.

If it is our organisations that are imposing that belief, then they need to recognise that we cannot be available 24/7 without there being consequences – burnout, anxiety, depression or worse.

Many organisations are introducing wellbeing programmes into their agenda – and they need to: the 21st century knowledge worker is in need of some TLC.

So how can managers help employees to unplug from their devices and reduce the risks of burnout? Here are a few tips:

Apply the Pomodoro Technique; the time management method developed by Italian Francesco Cirillo that uses the tomato-shaped Pomodoro timer to break work into 25-minute intervals, separated by short breaks.

Ironically, there are apps to remind you to take breaks, and the Apple Watch will tap you with a reminder.

Use “Out of Office”: this tool has been pushed into the long grass recently, but it’s still an effective ways of buying yourself some space and time when you want to be offline.

Go analogue, regularly; using paper, whiteboards and other analogue tools activate different parts of your brain and will put you into a refreshed frame of mind.

Set up a company running club or walking group so that you and colleagues get out of the office and into the fresh air. These are increasingly popular and more people will join once they’re up and running, including senior managers, directors and partners. Gradually, these clubs will shift the organisation’s culture to one where offline breaks and digital detoxing is encouraged, not frowned upon.

Further information

Matthew Rock is from the Chartered Management Institute.

 

Is Technology a Double-Edged Sword for Employees?

While most information technology professionals, human resource practitioners and attorneys agree that every organization should have strong technology and Internet usage policies, disagreement arises on just how limited or expansive employee access to information systems should be.

Several recent studies have shown that increased access to online and mobile technology can be both good and bad for workers. According to a study conducted by the Toronto-based IT management consulting group Softchoice, released in November 2014, employees who have more access to technology and cloud applications tend to be happier and more productive than those who don’t.

Francis Li is vice president of information technology at Softchoice:

The deluge of mobile devices and cloud apps into our personal and professional lives has fueled a common perception that technology leads to overworked, disengaged staff.

On the contrary, our research shows that technology, and cloud apps in particular, have the potential to play key roles in solving long-standing employee engagement challenges.

For the Softchoice study, researchers surveyed 1,000 full-time workers in the United States and Canada. The survey examined the workers’ cloud-based application usage and asked them a variety of questions about their happiness and satisfaction at work.

Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of survey respondents who used cloud-based apps at work reported being happy in their jobs, compared to 19 percent of workers who don’t use apps. In addition, among respondents who used six or more cloud apps for work, 85 percent reported that they had an optimal work/life balance, compared to 59 percent of those who didn’t use apps.

Francis Li:

The study shows that there are clear advantages to enabling technology use and giving employees a choice on which apps they use; however, this must be done within the construct of a compliant and safe environment.

Although the Softchoice study shows clear advantages to providing and possibly even increasing access to technology, other studies have concluded that too much access can be a bad thing. In fact, several researchers have coined the term “telepressure” to describe employees’ urges to respond immediately to work-related e-mails and also to use mobile technology and applications to work and stay in contact with contact supervisors.

A study conducted by researchers at Northern Illinois University (NIU) collected data from 303 workers who reported how often they responded to e-mails on weekends, vacation days and sick days. The researchers concluded that employees who fixated on responding to e-mails reported poorer sleep quality and were more likely to miss work for health reasons.

The NIU study did not find a strong link between telepressure and employees’ personalities, instead finding that workplace culture seemed to predict the level of telepressure.

Larissa K. Barber is an assistant professor of psychology at NIU.

Some workers have trouble cognitively letting it go,” said
She added that an obsession with responding to e-mail and staying connected could also reduce employees’ productivity. Instead of diving into bigger work tasks, they become focused on responding to e-mail and texts.

At some organizations, workers are getting implicit and explicit cues.

This is what you should be doing to be a good employee.

A report released in September 2013 by the American Psychological Association (APA) had similar results to the NIU study, finding that 81 percent of U.S. workers check e-mail outside of work, with more than a third reporting that they check job-related e-mail several times a day outside of work hours. However, the APA study reached a slightly different conclusion on the impact that increased access to communication technology had on work-related stress.

While the APA report found workers did feel pressure to remain connected during nonwork hours, more than half of the respondents (56 percent) to the APA survey said communication technology and online access helped them to be more productive in their jobs, and 53 percent said that technology gives them more flexibility.

David W. Ballard is the assistant executive director for organizational excellence at the APA:

People are often given the advice to unplug if you want to achieve work/life balance and recharge.

While there’s no question that people need downtime to recover from work stress and avoid burnout, that doesn’t necessarily require a complete ‘digital detox.’

For many people, the ability to stay connected can add value to their work and personal lives. We’re learning that not everyone wants to power down, and that’s OK.