Over the years, the boundaries of the 9 to 5 day have been gradually eroded.
When we’re working from home more, and our devices are always on and nearby, it can be all too easy to work longer and longer hours. The trouble with that is it has a knock-on effect. We get tired, we get cranky and we miss out on getting the much-needed downtime that helps us recharge and be productive and healthy the next day.
It’s not so much a problem with connection anymore, but more about disconnection! Getting a balanced diet of business comms is essential for long-term creativity and mental health.
Our Neanderthal brain hates missing out and is wired for distraction. That’s why we find it so difficult to find the mental off button.
Beeps, flashes, meetings, email, colleague / family member demands… all of these things disturb our concentration during an average working day (once every 3 minutes, if research is to be believed!) This is exacerbated by the fact that these distractions are social – it’s easy to ignore your washing machine when it beeps, but you might be ignoring your boss if your phone does the same. The problem is that these distractions destroy productivity. If you are doing a complex task, it can take between 12 and 20 minutes to recover after an interruption.
To combat this we multitask. In reality, we don’t actually multitask, we time-slice multiple activities – which means that all of these activities are done less efficiently. Multitasking is very harmful to productivity – even if we feel we’re more productive when we’re doing it.
Add to this the pressure to be “always on”, particularly if you’re away from the office. This is tied up with the cult of “busy-ness” which seems to dominate business thinking. The biggest issue is what ‘productive work’ is in the first place. Knowledge workers, in particular, are hard to measure because much of what they do is intangible. If you equate a clear email inbox, a full diary, being “seen” to be in the office, or constant availability on messaging platforms with productivity, then that is probably what you do all day. We always seem to put a higher value on action rather than inaction. We attend meetings (both online and face-to-face) without necessarily knowing what the agenda is, or why we are there, because it makes us feel busy. Being reflective and taking time out to think is incredibly valuable but it looks too much like staring into space, because business is so concerned with action and activity – things that are easy to measure.
This “cult of busy-ness” also means that we tend to get tugged in all directions during our working day. We feel out of control. Classic psychology tells us that high levels of demand and low levels of perceived control tends to result in stress, burnout and emotional exhaustion.
For those of us struggling with all this, we may need to look at changing the ways that we work. Technologies can significantly improve our working lives, so we can’t simply throw them away, but changing the ways that we use them could result in better productivity and more time to ourselves. To improve employee well-being, we need to look at how we are using technology and whether or not we can improve how we use it.
Like any good diet, the ‘Balanced communications diet for business’ has 5 key steps:
- focus - just because we can work anywhere doesn’t mean we should.
- boundaries - set times when you’re ‘on’ and when you are ‘off’.
- awareness - understand how you’re using technology when you’re working.
- education - we tend to assume that everyone understands how to use collaboration tools because we use them outside the workplace. This is often far from the case.
- balance - if we want to become more productive and lessen the potential negative impact of technology, we need to make a conscious effort to control how we use it, rather than it controlling us.
Ultimately, it is up to us to maintain a healthy communications diet and that is really about getting a balance that suits us as individuals. The balanced communications diet for business will help you to slim down your working day, whilst boosting your productivity.