Take Time to Think Offline

Working professionals today all seem to want wider and faster internet access on their mobile phones. We expect our smart phones to do everything our laptops can do. The result is we’re rarely unconnected anymore.

Employers are coming to expect this too. But being connected all the time may mean we are losing the benefits of being offline.

Facebook is now the most visited website with more than a half-billion users who spend a lot of time documenting their lives and commenting on others. Do you feel like the important things in your life don’t really matter if you haven’t posted them on Facebook? What if you did post something and nobody “Liked” or “Commented” on it? Does your network determine whether it has value?

I don’t consider myself a social media butterfly by any means, but I know how compelling connecting in this way can be. I just think we need to temper our time on Facebook with actual facetime.

And I am as guilty as the next guy when it comes to needing my internet fix. I no longer read a “dead tree,” as my friend likes to call them, and I used to subscribe to three newspapers at a time. I no longer have a TV cable bill either. My news, my information, my entertainment, and much of my connections now come in large part via the web.

But I don’t want to be addicted to what academic researchers Edward Hallowell and John Ratey call a “dopamine squirt” for every email or text message I receive. Instead, I want time away from my devices to enable creative thinking and genuine human interaction that I find can only occur when I’m unplugged.

When television moved from three network stations to hundreds of channels via cable or satellite, this seemed like such a great thing. But, for the most part, you can only watch one channel at a time. The same is basically true in the internet age.

Yes I know that multitasking is now considered a basic job requirement, but we should also acknowledge that there are limitations in trying to do things in parallel rather than sequencially. Taking the time to focus thoroughly on one thing at a time enables you to dive deeper, and to better diagnose and resolve a problem or find an opportunity.

In a previous post, I discussed how multitasking or “switchtasking” is detrimental to productivity, and email is the biggest reason why. Email and other distractions on our computers and smart phones are constantly seeking our attention.

But just because we can attend to our computers and phones all day and night, doesn’t mean we should. Like any tool, the laptop and the smartphone have their limitations and organizations would benefit if they enabled and encouraged more time for focused work away from these tools.

The Economist magazine recently pointed out, “Most companies are better at giving employees access to the information superhighway than at teaching them how to drive.”

Time for focused thinking may be frowned upon at work because you won’t actually look busy when you’re doing it. We may, in fact, even feel guilty if we’re not facing our computer screens and simply gazing off into the distance or out a window, though that could sometimes be enormously more productive.

Making the time to unplug and focus your thinking without disruptions can go a long way towards increasing your productivity. Instead of emailing, tweeting or posting a comment, speak to someone face-to-face. There will be less chance for misinterpretation and greater opportunity for increasing trust and commraderie.

Social Networks Bottom-line Benefits Require Employee Focus

Companies embracing social networks both internally and externally appear to be achieving bottom-line benefits, but this requires more than technology. It also means empowering employees at every level to make decisions and provide them with more flexibility in how to solve problems.

According to recent findings by McKinsey & Company, a new class of company is emerging that uses collaborative Web 2.0 technologies (wikis, blogs, social networks, mash-ups, etc.) intensively to connect the internal efforts of employees and extend an organization’s reach to customers, partners and suppliers.

The McKinsey worldwide survey of 3,249 executives across a range of regions, industries and functional areas found that two-thirds of respondents use Web 2.0 technologies in their organizations and the results are paying off. The survey asked respondents about their patterns of Web 2.0 use, the measurable business benefits they derived from it and the organizational impact of Web technologies.

More than two-thirds (69%) reported that their companies have gained measurable business benefits, including more innovative products and services, more effective marketing, better access to knowledge, lower cost of doing business, and higher revenues.

This is great news for businesses and their shareholders as well as the economy as a whole. The widespread use of Twitter and Facebook is beginning to look like more than a passing fad, but as a valid way to leverage business opportunities. Blogging can now be used to reach customers more directly and establish stronger relationships.

This is also good for a company’s ability to increase productivity, innovate more and increase employee engagement. According to the survey, the internal organizational impact included increased information sharing, less hierarchical information flows and collaboration across organizational silos.

Those businesses who embrace Web 2.0 technologies both internally and externally deploy talent more flexibly to deal with problems and allow employees lower in the corporate hierarchy to make decisions.

Implementing any new technology in an organization requires employee training to use it, but in the case of Web 2.0, there is also a need to alter corporate culture behaviorally. Just because there is a wiki, doesn’t mean people will contribute to it. Blogging without guidelines, support and incentives won’t necessarily lead to greater usage.

Social networking requires truly embracing the social to be successful and this may very well change the way employees interact inside the organization. Information won’t flow more freely because of technology alone. It also requires a cultural shift in the way employees interact with each other that is based upon mutual respect and trust.

Perhaps this is what separates the 3% of companies included in the McKinsey survey who are considered fully networked—those that have embraced Web 2.0 technologies both internally and externally. They are realizing the most benefits because they have focused their efforts on the cultural aspects as well as the technology.

To realize the bottom-line benefits of Web 2.0, organizations need to focus on the behavior accompanying it. This means empowering employees and giving them greater flexibility to do their jobs.

How is Web 2.0 technology being adopted in your company? Is it just the latest business strategy or is it fully embraced and supported with a focus on shifting the corporate culture so that it can be successful?

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