The world is becoming increasingly distraught about the influence of technology in daily life. Digital detoxes and cleanses are the flavor of the season. From tracking screen usage to minimalism extending from material possession to applications on devices, a large majority of the population is gravitating towards the idea of distancing themselves from the digital obsession that surrounds us.
The benefits of taking time away from our phones, laptops, iPads and the like are well known. It helps form deeper connections, results in better posture, improves memory, sleep quality and self-control. However, the best advantage a digital detox has to offer is the change in perspective when we realize how prevalent the presence of technology is in our lives. Despite the many benefits, designers of technology are constantly inventing new mechanisms to keep the addiction strong. From the notification pings indicating instant gratification, brightly colored app logos, to the anticipation of views, likes and comments on ever-increasing user generated content, this addiction is one few have been able to refrain from.
Organizations are no help either. They keep us hooked on to the oldest form of social media i.e. emails all day long. When that’s not enough, internal messaging tools keep us glued to the online world. I cannot help but wonder, can organizations enable and encourage digital cleanses? If yes, for how long.
Why should organizations consider this?
While the blame naturally shifts towards social media when it comes to obsession with the digital world, people often forget that work is the biggest culprit of all. Staring at our screen for the purpose of work far outweighs the four hours that we may spend scrolling through Instagram. The only reason we do not attribute equal blame to emails, instant messages is because we believe that it is time spent being productive. But really, who are we fooling? The urge to instantly check all emails received, respond to messages on the internal communicator are on the contrary impacting our ability to truly focus and get real work done. Yet, organizations encourage this behavior. Not only do they expect quick responses at work, they expect you to carry work with you on your phone.
Cutting down time spent on work emails and deleting the instant messenger from your system will likely bring as many benefits into your life as deleting your social media accounts. The only fallout is that you may displease your bosses in the bargain. Your actual delivery will sky rocket and you’ll have more time to create. The only true digital detox is one that involves your work.
The long swim home
Digital cleanses unlike juice cleanses should not be about cutting things out in entirety. Not only is it not sustainable (like juice cleanses), it will also likely send the world spinning out of control. A better way of detox would be to maybe plunge into the deep end and slowly swim to equilibrium. If you are an organization looking to pioneer in the space of digital equilibrium, (also read detox) here’s what you might want to do.
Step 1: Plunge into the deep end
Work off-sites/planning meetings are not rare occurrences. What makes this an ideal starting point is that these meetings actively advocate putting away phones and laptops. Some even go as far as to not provide Wi-Fi services (Gasp!). If there was ever a time to start a company-aided digital detox, this would be the place. Why not begin by taking your management team for an offsite where you can plan for the year ahead, laugh a little and disconnect from the outside world. Two days is all it takes. You will without doubt see withdrawal symptoms emerge in every team member but challenges are always easier when you have company.
Step 2: The slow swim back
Now that you have had two days or maybe five without access to phones and other devices, bring people back into the real world. The only condition is that the reintroduction be slow. Introduce a 10-day challenge where social media is restricted to an hour a day, internal messaging is not allowed and emails are sent only within a two hour window. It may seem drastic but work will get done and likely more efficiently than before. Slowly and gradually, let people come up with their own rules to dictate their relationship with technology at work. If done right, people would have peeled off the non-essential and will drift towards an ideal state.
Step 3: Dive when needed
Of course, for the majority, they’ll just curse the scheme and return right back to where they began within the week. That’s OK. It will happen to those who see value in the exercise too. Don’t push a detox on those who don’t want it but for those who do but are still struggling, maybe plunge them into the deep end again. A second retreat within three months will help stabilization, increased focus and productivity.
If your organization doesn’t do this for you, try doing it for yourself. Track the benefits and if you see it, then ask yourself – would your team be better because of this?
The big question ultimately is not if organizations should or can do this but if they ever will.