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  • Joan van den Brink

Helpful or an intrusion?

New technologies come out every day that are designed to make our personal lives and work easier but are these helpful or an intrusion? Can we still connect with others and ourselves at a human level?

Sam is woken up by the alarm on her iPhone at 6am. She glances at her fitbit and sees that of the 7½ hours that she has been in bed, she was only asleep for 5 of those. “That’s the 3rd night in a row; must figure out how to switch off at night!” she thinks to herself.

She goes into the bathroom to take her shower and clean her teeth. She sees from the app on her iPhone that she is brushing on average for 2 mins 35 secs each time but that she keeps missing one of her back molars. Sam determines to check with her hygienist at her next appointment to see how she can improve her brushing technique. A reminder comes up on her agenda to send the data to him today so that he can review it before they meet next week.

Sam makes herself a cup of coffee and takes some fruit out of the fridge for breakfast. It’s been a week since her last grocery shop but the fridge is still pretty full. She takes a quick look at the food manager app and is relieved that the meat is still within its use by date so she doesn’t have to worry about that and her grocery list only contains a few items so her online shopping order can wait a few more days!

Sam puts on her coat, grabs her backpack and leaves for work. She has an important meeting with her boss this morning to pitch some ideas she has for changing the organisation design to increase collaboration within her function. She rehearses her arguments as she drives to work. She is brought out of her reverie by an orange light showing on her dashboard that tells her that she has been driving too fast ... again! “Must concentrate on my driving and slow down, or my insurance company will be contacting me about my driving habits and increase my premium”, she thinks.

Sam’s discussion with her boss goes well and she needs to brief her team at their regular weekly meeting. Sam has booked a room with the Listening Table installed to allow her to focus on the conversation rather than take notes. The team has a lively discussion with Sam’s proposal to implement a new organisation design of what is important, who should be involved and how to get started. After the meeting Sam reflects on the group dynamics she observed during the meeting, prompted by the transcript that was generated. “Tom was unusually quiet and did not bookmark any moments during the meeting, whilst Jack and Sarah seemed to be vying for who could log the most points. I wonder if using the Listening Table is stimulating some unusual behaviours in the team?” she ponders. Sam looks at the wellness dashboard of her team and see that only 2 out of the 7 have been physically active whilst all of them have been spending long hours in meetings and working at their desks. She decides to talk to each of them to see how they can achieve a healthier balance of work and downtime so that they can sustain their productivity levels and still achieve their goals.

Sam’s day continues….

Seem farfetched? How was your day?

In today’s world, the explosion of the use of technology means that we have a plethora of apps to monitor every aspect of our lives both at work and at home. In this ‘always on’ world we can monitor everything and be monitored every second of the day through social media, intelligent devices, wearables … the list goes on. Is this helpful or an intrusion? It can feel like there is no place to hide, be private and just do our own thing, as the clamour to connect, be visible, to contribute increases.

So what can you as individuals and leaders do about it? How can you find a space for yourself and your teams that is truly your own without the feeling that Big Brother is watching you?

As Individuals

There is one place where you do exert absolute control and that’s in your personal life. Yes, there are still things that you need to do, such as pay your taxes, complete information for official records, etc. and that laptop screen is still blinking, sending you reminders of those things that you have yet to do and your mobile phone is buzzing with incoming messages, alerts, tweets etc. but you can choose when and where to engage with all this.

Research has shown that we need to create time for ourselves, to be still, recharge our batteries and just enjoy being so that our brain can unload the clutter of the information overload and gently sift through all the events that have occurred during the day, storing information, solving problems, being creative etc. Whilst meditation is not for everyone, there are some simple things you can do to take a break:

  • Take regular breaks from work/tasks and do something completely different e.g. go for a brisk walk, listen to some music, take a nap, read a poem.

  • Resist the urge to respond to those alerts and messages on your phone, which, less face it are both addictive and very distracting. There are a number of apps (ironic, I know!) such as Freedom that allow you to block your laptop and phone from the Internet for a period of time that you define.

  • Simply switch off all your devices and put them out of sight or in a different room from where you are so that it takes some effort to retrieve and start them up again.

  • The blue light that the screen emits is quite disruptive to the body’s patterns, so it is good to minimise the impact by leaving your phone/tablet downstairs when you go to bed so that you are not tempted to take a sneaky look just before you go to sleep, or are woken up by the sound of a message/alert coming in.

  • Try doing without the Internet completely for a day. See how you do. This is easier said than done, I know, but it’s amazing how abstaining frees you up to do other things, such as having real conversations rather than throwing each other the latest titbit from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc. Going out for the day or on holiday to a place where there is limited Wi-Fi (increasingly difficult to achieve these days) makes this simpler and your friends, family and work will understand. They know how to reach you if something urgent comes up!

As leaders:

Exceptional leaders understand that they need to create a safe work environment so that people can be their best selves at work. Your team members need to trust that you will put their best interests at heart and act responsibly so that technology supports them to perform their roles well and not feel that they will be penalised if they spend too long chatting at the water cooler or taking time out to recharge their batteries. When you clearly explain what you are trying to achieve and how the different technologies, smart devices and apps help to secure the results you are looking for and make human-centred decisions about when and how to use these tools, your team can appreciate that it is not about gathering data to use as a stick to beat them and will more willingly engage.

A recent Future of Work study by The Jensen Group found that survey respondents needed “a strong, passionate vision to connect employees to their company”.

So, be courageous! Engage in a new dialogue with your team members about their passions, dreams and ideas and explore how you can incorporate these into your team’s work so that they find meaning and purpose in their work and so engage fully to contribute to both your team’s success and their own.

Create an environment, a pocket of excellence, within which your team:

  • understands the purpose of their work;

  • have clear goals (that you trust them to deliver!);

  • feel personally accountable for the outcome; and

  • receive specific, quality feedback from a credible source – YOU!

If you act authentically, your people will willingly go on the journey with you to a better future that incorporates new technologies as part of their daily lives.

Technology is a great enabler that used wisely can facilitate us to do great things. It allows us to access the vast knowledge in the world, explore different cultures, learn about different philosophies and viewpoints, develop new skills and much, much more. It takes the drudge out of the tasks we need to perform every day and so free us up to do things that are more rewarding and enriching at home and work. However, to ensure that we reap the benefits, we need the maturity to act responsibly and not abuse the power that technology can afford us so that our actions do not intrude on the lives of others.

Remember that the most important thing is to put human beings and the centre of what we do and treat others how we would want to be treated!

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