Setting boundaries around digital use and knowing where it is and isn’t effective is necessary for a healthy balance.
The ways in which people work is changing. There’s no denying the profound influence technology is having on work practices and organisational culture. More than ever before people around the globe are connected, communicating and sharing information.
The growth of flexible work practices is a prime example of the technological impact. Research by global technology firm Dimension Data shows the growing prevalence of flexible working conditions, with 47 per cent of Australian organisations employing people who work from home full-time, and 57 per cent expecting that to be the case in just two years from now.
While technology unquestionably has an enabling influence on both flexibility and communication, the pitfalls and risks need to be understood. How people choose to leverage technology is key to the impact it has on workplace culture, engagement and ultimately performance.
Among the most important considerations for any organisation are the impact of technology on both relationships and the ability for people to maintain a healthy balance.
At the heart of any organisation’s ability to thrive are great relationships. A culture built on trust and respect is fundamental to any team’s success. The simple truth is that when people enjoy working together, they are entirely more likely to collaborate and strive to achieve exceptional outcomes.
Technology can and typically does have a significant influence on how relationships are built and fostered. While the ability to communicate in real time and share information is enhanced, the risk of disconnection, miscommunication and conflict is also heightened.
It’s an unfortunate reality that some people choose to express aggression, judgement and blame when hiding behind a keyboard. Emboldened by the distance technology creates, common courtesy and constructive debate can at times go out the window.
With a growing prevalence of digital communication in the workplace, leaders need to take deliberate steps to ensure it’s effective use. A PWC study exploring attitudes among the millennial generation found 41 per cent prefer to communicate electronically at work than face to face or even over the telephone.
People need the ability to express themselves constructively, irrespective of the forum or medium through which they choose to do it. Just as important is their ability to know when to send a text, post a Facebook message or have a face to face conversation.
Many more organisations today are recognising the need to maintain a healthy balance between work and rest. No longer simply focussed on the number of hours people contribute, there’s a growing recognition of the benefit of “time out”. While this awareness grows, so too does the influence of technology on our ability to stay connected 24/7.
A 2014 Deloitte survey found all too often “Smartphones, tablets, and other devices keep employees tethered to their jobs 24/7/365”. Pointing to a trend of overwhelmed employees, the report argues for the need to overcome our always-connected lifestyle and information overload.
Work by Harvard Business School professor of leadership Leslie Persow led to Boston Consulting Group tackling a culture of being “on” 24/7. Working to break the “always on” habit, consultants reportedly became not only more satisfied with their jobs but also produced better results. The organisation achieved measurable improvement in recruitment, retention and engagement.
Karen Gately is a people-management specialist and founder of HR Consultancy Ryan Gately.