I’m at the CIPD conference listening to author Dan Schawbel. He’s talking about how technology has created the illusion that we are connected at work, but, while useful, virtual communication has contributed to a greater sense of isolation than ever before.
Now as a social media enthusiast I instinctively dislike this suggestion. Social media is where I met my partner and some of my very favourite people. It is where I found my tribe, my community of practice, my PLN. I passionately believe in the power of technology to connect us at work and beyond, regardless of geography, access, timezones.
So…. will I like when he has to say?
The illusion of connection is that we are forming strong bonds but they are weak ties. Voice is gone, you have to send a text message. We look at our phones every 12 minutes (Note from me- nah, more than that). Technology and apps and devices are designed to get us addicted. The more we use them, the more we tap our phones, the more money organisations make.
Half of Americans would rather break a bone than their phone. Technology is a double edged sword. We need to know when, where and how to use it. We need to ensure we aren’t overusing it. If you are in a meeting or a social event and looking at your phone, you are not present. You are physically there but not in any other way. So why did you bother showing up? Do you panic if you have no mobile signal? We miss moments as we are so busy posting pictures on Instagram or Facebook, looking for likes from people who aren’t there, that we might not even like.
Not having your phone is the new vacation. We are lacking human connection.
Remote working is something that is increasing. We talk about benefits of it, but not the dark side. We can save on commuting costs and time. It is the most desired benefit – but at the same time this privilege to work wherever we want has come with its inbuilt issues. Remote working can impact team commitment and connection.
We are addicted to email. We would rather send an email than talk to people. (Note from me – yes, I would. Don’t ring me).
You can have a lot of Facebook friends, but are they real friends, or are we lonely?
Work is impacting our life. We need to recognise people as people and not workers – and this is going to become even more important as the technology in our work and lives increases.
We need to integrate our lives with our work.
Social integration is important, but we are removing it from our society. Consider self service checkouts. We don’t have to engage with another human being.
With all the talk about technology taking over jobs, what matters is our humanity – what makes you, you. Use technology where it appropriate, but stick to being human.
There are four key employee engagement factors that relate to each other. The first one is trust. The second is belonging – people want to feel that they belong at work. Third is purpose – people need a reason to go to work every day. Finally, happiness. Without these factors this is not a healthy environment.
People want to bring their full selves into the workplace, and we have to meet them where we are. We need to get back to human.
I just don’t know how I feel about this whole session…….. I get that we need breaks from work. I get that technology can be as problematic as it is freeing and positive. But I have genuinely never felt the need for a digital detox. My phone is where my friends are, where I connect, learn and engage with people I wish I could see more but can’t. It is the place where I see my beautiful god-daughter every day, even though she is geographically far away.
For me, it isn’t the technology but how we use it. We do have agency and choice. Remote working doesn’t have to mean working from home everyday, not connecting with others. It can be part of a mix. Technology doesn’t have to prevent communication and discussion, but facilitate it. Being in the office can also be isolating, depending on where and how you work.
So much of this is contextual. What works for one person, doesn’t work for everyone. not everyone needs or wants work friendships. Not everyone has a lot of transactional Facebook friends.
For some of us (e.g. me) chatting to my friends in my social spaces, through my phone, makes me happy.
Using technology doesn’t mean we aren’t empathic. It doesn’t mean we can’t bring our whole self to work.
This stuff is undoubtedly complex. Late night and weekend emailing can be pressuring, damaging to health, indicative of problematic organisational culture. It could be that someone is working flexibly at a time that works for them, when they feel most energised. What we need to do is empower people. To turn off the tech when they need to. To work when and how they need to, but at the same time tell others that this doesn’t mean that they need to do the same. If your phone and the technology isn’t serving you well, put it down. You have choice. I don’t want me emails to be automatically deleted because I am on holiday, or my colleagues to be banned from emailing me out of hours – I am an adult. And that just perpetuates the idea that there are ‘normal’ working hours rather than recognising that a healthy, balanced approach might mean I can work when it works for me.
Connect in person. Connect virtually. Both, for me, are human.
Put down your phone if you need to. And if you don’t feel that you have a problem, then proceed as you were.
This is a live blog. Please ignore any typos!