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Is Hyper-connectivity Making You Less Productive?

December 22, 2015

If you haven’t realized this already but we are living in a hyperconnected world. Us humans seek connections in more ways than we need and the only reason we are doing so is because somehow it’s been established as the “right” thing to do. Connectivity is a requirement, not a choice. No surprises then that we have become addicted to our mobile devices — the facilitators of hyperconnectivity. For the modern day human, juggling between devices is a normal bodily function, thanks to which our span of attention is now at par with that of a goldfish. We settle for quick choices over right choices, and who could blame us. The market for attention — any kind of attention — is super competitive and if someone hasn’t been able to capture it in a moment’s notice then there’s always somebody else willing to provide it, and instantly too.

Now spelling out this bit really made us wonder about the communication culture of modern day. It’s clear that at any given point there is just one too many things vying for our attention. There are messages from every channel possible, for every little purpose and consideration, popping up within a fraction of a second. Our n numbers of mobile devices are constantly raring with all their might, ready to unleash a glut of mails and messages at all hours of the day. And somehow it feels like keeping track of all these communications — social and professional — has, in fact, become more tasking than ever. There is always an email that’s not been read, approvals not sanctioned and messages not replied to. We find ourselves anything but resilient to the forces of modern communication systems. And truth be told, this hyperconnectivity to the world is taxing — taxing on our mental faculties and our ability to comprehend situations with clarity.

One of the many misgivings of hyperconnectivity is that it has aggravated an already questionable “always on work” culture where people are working all time, from every place possible. And because we are tethered to our mobile devices throughout the day (and night) the fine distinction between when you are on the clock and when you are not is now a blurred line.

What’s worse is when a slew of asynchronous communications find their way to your inboxes which are already full. Very often the sender and the receiver of the messages collaborate over different time zones, resulting in an uncertainty about the receipt of the message altogether. What if things change by the time a receiver even opens her email in the morning of her time zone? What if an important document shared between 5 people in different geographies is tinkered with across just 1 location? Not only does the conversation derail, a lot more effort now needs to be allotted to getting things back on track. And keep in mind, you are all still in different time zones…

The reality is that business processes have been changed — in terms of the technology that’s now employed to the diversity of talent that works on a project. Competition is global, aggressive and the need to act fast is a survival instinct that is as real as ever. Speed is a real enough metric — be it in lieu of the time it takes to resolve a ticket, answer a customer query or come out with new product for the market, for that matter. In view of all this, organizations have consciously instituted polices and systems where everyone is connected to everyone else — all the time. If you look close enough, these are organizations that are fundamentally reactive in nature, producing a knew-jerk reflex response to every situation, instead of thinking through the problem for a better, more helpful response.

While this level of hyperconnectivity may reap short term benefits — you may be able to do a little more than usual, reply to more ever emails than earlier — how much of it is sustainable and beneficial for the long term is questionable. The question for whether we are setting ourselves to an eventual burnout and loss of productivity altogether are questions that are often over looked. Is working longer really better than working smart?

It’s no rocket science to understand that the answer to this question is hard no! No good can come out of ruining a family dinner time for each other when the issue could have very well waited till next morning.

While researching for her book “Sleeping with Your Smartphone: How to Break the 24/7 Habit and Change the Way You Work” Harvard professor Leslie A. Perlow conducted a study on humans’ dependency on smartphones and how disconnecting from a constantly tethered way of existence will affect work productivity. Her study revealed that with just a few hours of “conscious disconnection” employees found themselves feeling more productive, “inclined” towards their work and satisfied too. The notion of being always ‘on the call’ is largely self-perpetuated and a little nudge in the direction of realizing it went a long way in establishing the importance of smart work instead of quick overreactions.

Predictable time-off has its benefits. Not working on a common clock as somebody else is good for you because you don’t (necessarily) have to drop everything to respond to them. Spaced out communication is a boon when taken in the context of understanding of the problem, response clarity and effectiveness. And if a relevant tool is adopted to facilitate seamless communication between geographically displaced team, say a project management system or a work flow management tool, lot more resiliencies can be built in to modern work cultures. And what do you know, there are plenty of technologically powered solutions to help modern day teams work seamlessly and in sync with each other without having to disrupt each other’s personal lives.

We must understand that policies and systems work when people commit to it — even if it is the need to work late. Getting people to adhere to and engage with certain work ethics requires an emotional investment from the people themselves. And as long as they go home happy, they come back to work excited and motivated. Maybe it’s time you take a look at how your team really works their work.


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