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Why Offline Can Be as Sexy as Online: Not Just A More Productive Ride at 20,000 Feet!

July 13, 2015

The dark side to an always on, IM-loaded, real time communications (RTC) world is two-fold.   Anyone can get a hold of you at anytime, anywhere, resulting in increased interruptions throughout the day.  Further, there's a maximum level of instant messaging you are willing to receive outside of a core group before your thinking time/work time start to become sucked up akin to the deterioration of email.  Planned unplugging is bound to be a business practice in the future, as many positions don't need to be 100 percent RTC available during the course of the day.

Negative impacts of social media -- other than the occasional swarm of bad reviews -- upon businesses have not been fully assessed, but downsides among family interaction have been documented.   Daily overuse of media and technology have been showed to have a negative effective upon all children, making them more prone to anxiety, depression and other disorders.  Facebook interruptions during studying can negatively impact learning.

While those items may not be directly applicable to your workforce and business, it is easy to see how overactive use of real time communications might impact the effectiveness of employees both on a direct psychological level, by making them more detached and distracted from the work environment, and upon general productivity by the number of work flow interruptions generated during the course of the day. 

Vendors have touted "always on" as a virtue, but employees of all pay grades need downtime to rest and recharge.  A vacation is less effective and enjoyable if the office is asking for a video conference every day during beach time.  Work from home may seem to be a great idea if an employee is sick, but do we really want to hear someone hacking and sneezing their way through a conference call?

Three RTC "boundary" strategies are likely to be implemented by businesses in the near future.  Meeting are likely to be a no-RTC/IM area in the near future, but it will be difficult to divorce the temptation of having an IM window or two up while taking notes during the course of a meeting.  At some point, I suspect we'll hear about some high tech brand name ban electronic devices from meetings shorter than 30 to 45 minutes, even going so far as to insist upon pencil and paper to replace tablet and laptop usage. Amazon banned the use of PowerPoint at staff meetings, instead insisting upon concisely written briefing papers, so I suspect we won't be long from the no-IM-during-meeting rule.


Productivity during the rest of work day is going to be trickier.  Always-on, threaded/recorded IM communication for workgroups is all the rage, but managers and employees are going to have to balance out how many active threads/projects and participants they bring together and monitoring while trying to get everything else they are tasked with done.  Employees may have to block out daily "No IM" time,  probably in the morning hours, to take care of tasks without productivity interruptions.

RTC outside of normal work hours is bound to be the most difficult. Employees feel they need to opt-in and be available on a 24x7 basis, but contrary to our current beliefs, that may not be the most effective use of their time.  There's a reason why businesses hold off-site retreats and people go to trade shows in order to do business.   Getting the best productivity out of face-to-face meeting time should take priority over IM and email, with employees switching to a mode of "dedicated IM" time during off-site events, with the rest of the day optimized for people interactions instead of being face-down over a smart phone.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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