Should business be afraid of the digital detox?

Blog article | By Mark Barlow, June 8, 2016

Charities are raising funding with the sponsored ‘digital detox’ and the press is full of stories about how technology is creeping into more and more areas of our lives, trashing our social skills and turning us into a race that has to be connected even to function. Talk to the detractors and the so-called demon of tech is all pervasive at work and eating into our leisure time – the average US adult reportedly spends half of his or her waking life staring at a screen.

I’ll not deny that there are issues, or indeed that our cultural norms are changing, but I am not yet ready to jump onto the digital detox bandwagon. Technology is an incredibly powerful tool, which has brought enormous positive change to our world. It has transformed the economy, helped build bridges – both literally and figuratively – and revolutionised the way we work. What concerns me now, is that this anti-tech feeling could spill over into the workplace. If employees start to distance themselves from the very methods that make their working lives so much easier and more effective, we have a problem on our hands.

Let us imagine a scenario. An organization has been using paper-based systems as part of its annual performance review program. The method works, but it’s cumbersome, error prone and expensive. At board level, a decision is made to implement new HCM software which will empower employees, cut errors and deliver HR headcount savings. So far so good, but at the same time, one influential employee announces that this vacation he’s taking a digital detox. He’s leaving behind the cell and the tablet. He’s ignoring the email inbox and the SMS and heading off to the woods to reconnect with his ‘authentic self’.

That one employee’s actions can have a big impact, especially if he returns from his annual trip determined to keep up with his new way of living. Instead of embracing a fast, effective way to feedback on his goals and achievements, he’ll resist it. He’ll resent the very technology that could take him, his colleagues and the organization he works for to higher levels of performance.

What we’ve got here is a problem with perception. The term digital detox does technology no favors. That sneaky little suggestion that anything digital is poison has weight. But no technology in itself is either wholly good or wholly evil. Technology is a tool, and we ‘re the master of that tool. When we use it right, it doesn’t destroy our lives, it enriches them. A smart implementation strategy for our hypothetical organization would have carried that message to every user, including to our sceptical ‘detoxer’.

We shouldn’t ignore genuine concerns about ‘yet another’ thing that’s gone online or fears of never being able to fully ‘switch off’, but we can manage these processes. Well-managed software implementations realise that all users are different and that some are prejudiced or change-averse, but even for these individuals, adoption of new technologies doesn’t have to be a battle. With tailored support and communications, relevant accessible training and feedback, every user can become engaged and effective. The fact that the solution is a digital one should disappear. The key things the user should take away is how much easier, faster and more enjoyable it was to get the task done. It’s a matter of selling the benefits, not the chips, the circuitry and the programming.

Technology in business isn’t going away. It can’t. it’s too effective to be ignored and in most instances doesn’t deserve to be disparaged, but it does need to be managed. Part of that is managing, understanding and respecting attitudes to our digital toolbox. And while we’re doing that, let’s not be guilty of using the term detox alongside digital.

Who’s got money to burn?

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