Putting Workplace Technology In Its Place

This summer while you’re on vacation, how often will you check email? Are you even taking a vacation? If you’re anything like me, the thought of a digital-free vacation is almost more stressful than coming to work.

Our smartphones have become integral to our daily activities. I need mine to tell time and take photos — I even use it as a flashlight. (I’m obviously not leaving that behind the next time I travel.) But while there’s no question that these devices enhance our personal and professional lives, misuse can actually diminish our productivity and erode relationships.

“Be Where You Are”

A recent #TChat Radio show took on the ever-pressing issue of how to manage our digital lives more effectively. The expert guests offered great tips on staying focused and building relaxation into our routines at a time when we are constantly online. For me, the biggest takeaway is to “be where you are.” This simple statement can change your workplace and your life.

Different roles require different levels of connection. But whether you’re an ER doctor on-call, a celebrity publicist, or a product marketing manager, you need to be present and mindful of the task at hand to do it well.

Here’s what that means for me — and for members of my organization:

1) Everyone has 24 hours to reply to all non-emergency emails

Building-in buffer time levels the playing field and relieves employees of the pressure to respond after work hours. A 24-hour response policy means we can focus on immediate tasks, if needed, without constant distraction. At the same time, it means that projects aren’t delayed unnecessarily. If I’m in meetings all day, I can’t answer your email. So let’s start by assuming I’m in meetings all day. Also, a response-time buffer leads to more thoughtful, thorough emails. Given time to gather and process information, we can create well-constructed messages that answer follow-up questions before they are asked.

2) Only essential laptops should be used at meetings

Truthfully, most people do bring laptops into meetings here. But our most successful meetings are laptop free, aside from the device used to present meeting materials. Engaged group discussion does not happen if you’re checking Twitter or doing other work simultaneously. Leave laptops at the door when you need to address issues with real conversation. And by the way, if you don’t need face-to-face communication on the issue at hand, why are you having a meeting?

3) When you’re away from the office, leave the office behind

I’m not saying don’t work from home or from the road, but I am suggesting not to mix business with pleasure too often. Create a workspace wherever you happen to be working. Leave work stress and planning in that space when you leave it. Your family wants you to be part of the dinner conversation. Your friends want your mind — or whatever is left of it — with them for drinks. Your work suffers and your relationships suffer when you try to work and play simultaneously.

4) During a face-to-face conversation, don’t check your phone

This is life advice, but it’s also critical in the workplace. Checking your phone means you think someone (even an unidentified caller) deserves your attention more than the person talking to you. In essence, you’re saying that absolutely anyone deserves your attention more than the person you’re with. That can’t be true. Keep the conversation brief if you have somewhere else you should be, but have the conversation.

Remember Who Is In Control

None of these guidelines is a new concept. But they don’t have to be new to make good business sense. “Be where you are.” It’s great advice for both individuals and for organizations. Use technology’s power for good. When managed thoughtfully, these devices can help us be more productive and better connected. Just remember that you are in control.

As the future of mobile devices and other workplace technology unfolds, this conversation becomes even more important. Tell us your thoughts about technology’s impact in the comments below. And learn the perspective of these HR thought leaders in this recent whitepaper.

Image Credit: Piotr Bizior/Bizior Photography