Disconnecting in a digitally connected world - Thoughts from the Centre | Deloitte UK

Ryan Hopkins, Future of Wellbeing Leader, Deloitte

Picture4

With the proliferation of ‘tech’ into every single nook and cranny of our lives, we have seen the complete disappearance of the traditional work-home boundary and organisations are grappling with the implications of this uber-connected new world – with work-life balance becoming an in-vogue topic. The pinging of an email or instant message at all hours of the day can strike fear into the hearts of many employees – and can both increase the length of the working day and feelings of stress. Remote working has intensified this problem with the average global working day lengthening by two hours due in part to the loss of work-life boundaries.1 This week’s blog explores the implications of working in a hyper-interconnected world.

How does the increase in connectivity affect productivity?

Technology's pervasive influence has orchestrated a paradigm shift in the way organisations operate and how individuals work. The ascension of digital work has ushered in an era of unparalleled connectivity, enabling employees to seamlessly contribute and learn from anywhere and at any time – or so we were promised. However, as the tapestry of work and personal life becomes increasingly interwoven, it's important to question whether this hyper-connectedness genuinely translates to enhanced wellbeing and ultimately productivity.

In this time of great transformation, the UK has witnessed a modest 2.1 per cent upswing in productivity from 2019 to 2023 suggesting that the correlation between technology and productivity is more nuanced and perhaps not as strong as previously thought.2 Are we truly fostering productivity, better lifestyles with more flexibility, or have we inadvertently slipped into a state of perpetual busyness? It's worth remembering that an incoming email is, in essence, someone else's to-do list. Regardless of where one stands on the endless working from home debate, the undeniable outcome is the blurring of lines between work and personal life, triggering a quest for equilibrium that many find elusive.

In July 2023, the Office of National Statistics found that 44 per cent of UK workers were working remotely, 16 per cent full time and 28 per cent hybrid, with an average saving of five hours commuting and £44.78 on lunches every week.3 Great - or is it? Microsoft's Future of Work (FoW) study 2022, highlighted a telling statistic that since the onset of the pandemic, there has been a 28 per cent uptick in after-hours work and a 14 per cent spike in weekend work.4

How beneficial is hybrid working?

This newfound flexibility has its challenges. Liberated from the constraints of commuting, the temptation to just check, or respond to, one more email becomes unbearable, exacerbated by the constant accessibility that digital afford us. Likewise, social connection is a vital human need with people who feel less connected more likely to experience anxiety, stress and even burnout. Unsurprisingly remote working exacerbates this, with remote workers more likely to experience higher levels of social isolation, loneliness, and concern that performance is invisible.5

Yet, there is a silver lining; although work hours have extended, a two-hour window of commuting time has been reclaimed. Of this time, 40 percent is allocated to work, while 34 per cent caters to leisure and 11 per cent to caregiving responsibilities. While expanding the workday, the flexibility of remote work has carved out time for non-work pursuits.6 The image of someone dutifully tackling household chores during a 'Company Wide Update Call' comes to mind!

Perhaps the time has come to renounce the antiquated notion of work-life balance; a term that erroneously implies that work and life can harmoniously coexist and play nicely. The reality is different (but you knew that already); work, characterised by deadlines and deliverables, commands precedence. Life, however, must wait patiently.

How can organisations navigate this intricate dance between work and personal life?

More importantly, why should they? Well, a global survey suggests only 23 per cent of employees are engaged at work, the rest are ‘quiet quitting’ - one of the many reasons why organisations should care.7 The path to forging distinct boundaries is formidable and fraught with challenges, demanding innovative and often analogue solutions. Establishing clear digital demarcations is a potent strategy. A simple yet effective approach involves consciously powering down devices at the day's end, putting an end to work-related communication. Easier said than done, especially for those of us who can’t keep our hands out of the digital cookie jar.

For myself, I end each day with a certain ritual: a laptop closure, a change of glasses from 'work to personal mode’ and getting outside for some fresh air. As my brother tells me, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing choices." Beyond this ritual's seemingly benign surface lies a little wisdom that peeking at emails or responding to work messages post-working hours ends any thought of a distinction between work and personal life.

Organisations participating or enabling this change in ways of working require a strategic and tactical toolkit, including setting explicit expectations for working hours to colleagues and clients. For example, the French originated ‘Right to Disconnect’ legislation has spread globally since 2017, especially in Europe.8 The pandemic, however, has led to an increasing reliance on technologies but left workers more burnt out. Finding solutions is therefore even more critical. Ireland is the first country to evoke post-pandemic legislation.9 But should organisations wait for legislation or get ahead of the curve?

What are some of the solutions?

Technology while part of the problem, is also a solution and unless we define our digital boundaries someone else is going to define them for us and they will not be where we want them. It feels to me like we are constantly in meetings. Indeed, research suggests we spend 250 per cent more time in meetings – I would agree with that. However, some organisations are proactively tackling this situation, an amazing example being (see Box).

MicrosoftTeams-image (26)

Brilliant! Imagine having more time in your day to actually do your job. Everyone could adopt this approach and reclaim some time away from the screen, and it’s easy to do! Another tactic that could save 4.8 work weeks (176.5 hours) a year in seven seconds is auto scheduling each meeting to finish 5-10 minutes early (based on an average of six meetings per day).11 Now imagine a whole organisation doing this, say 5,000 people x 4.8 work weeks or 24,000 work weeks saved!

Conclusion

My thinking reflects the brilliant Parkinson’s law - 'work will expand to fill the time allotted for its completion'. If you have 30 minutes for a meeting you will use 30, if you have 25 you will use 25 and you will then get a chance to step away, stretch your legs, get a coffee, take a breath, go to the toilet. Take seven seconds now and reduce every meeting by at least five minutes – just do it, you’ll not regret it.

It is a western mindset to look for more, for more solutions, apps, and ways to fix our issues. However, whatever our workplace, we could often do with a bit less. How can you create some space for your self today? Moreover, taking some control, might just help improve your health and wellbeing!

Deloitte-uk-ryan-hopkins-new

Ryan Hopkins, Senior Manager, Risk Advisory

Ryan Hopkins is on a mission to engage 1 billion people in the betterment of wellbeing. He the Future of Wellbeing Leader at Deloitte helping organisations and governments around the world to create workplaces where individuals thrive.

Ryan is Linkedin Top Voice for Work Life Balance, TEDx Speaker, Host of the Audacious Goals Club,  Author of - '52 Weeks of Wellbeing: a no nonsense guide to a fulfilling work life' - January 2024.

Ryan’s work has positively influenced the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. He shares his personal story of bulimia, depression, anxiety openly and has reached over 10 million people on social media!

Email | LinkedIn

 

______________________________________________________________________________________

1 https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20211013-how-working-unpaid-hours-became-part-of-the-job

2 https://www-ft-com.ezp.lib.cam.ac.uk/content/0bad26d0-92a3-4f70-8ae3-9dff6c77d8f1

3 https://standout-cv.com/remote-working-statistics-uk   

4 https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/uploads/prod/2022/04/Microsoft-New-Future-of-Work-Report-2022.pdf

5 https://www2.deloitte.com/uk/en/blog/future-of-work/2022/9-ways-leaders-can-power-human-connection-in-a-hybrid-world.html

6 https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/uploads/prod/2022/04/Microsoft-New-Future-of-Work-Report-2022.pdf

7 https://www.gallup.com/workplace/349484/state-of-the-global-workplace.aspx

8 https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/BRIE/2020/642847/EPRS_BRI(2020)642847_EN.pdf

9 https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20210517-can-the-right-to-disconnect-exist-in-a-remote-work-world

10 Shopify’s CFO explains how its new meeting cost calculator works, and how it will cut 474,000 events in 2023: ‘Time is money’ (yahoo.com)

11 Deloitte calculation: 7.5 mins saved x six meetings per day x 235 the average working days per year is 10,575 minutes a year divided by 60 (mins in an hour) and divided again by 36.4 (the ONS average work week hours) equals 4.8 work weeks per person a year.

Comments

The comments to this entry are closed.