The double edged sword of technology in the era of remote work

Hashem ElAssad
Researcher, Writer and Content Creator
in Psychology & Career Development

Technology and productivity in the era of remote work

Guess who didn’t allow his kids to use the iPad? Steve Jobs! Let that sink in for a moment. In addition to Jobs, Nick Bilton, in the New York Times reports on other tech figures who also exercise caution with technology. Chris Anderson, former Wired editor, enforces strict rules in his household because he has “seen the dangers of technology firsthand”. 

Constant distraction harms relationships, the psyche, and the brain’s capacity for innovation and deep thinking

Technology means knowledge is a click away:something to be in awe of, and often very useful. However, too much of a good thing can be bad.

Technology can contribute to the “ sense of being always under pressure, always switched on like there’s no off-button”,  mindfulness expert Murray Paterson warns in his interview with Performance Leader CEO, Ray D’Cruz.

Constant distraction also hinders the brain from exercising its potential in innovation and complex problem solving. Informatics Professor Gloria Mark says “(W)hen people are switching contexts every 10 and half minutes they can’t possibly be thinking deeply. There’s no way people can achieve flow. When I write a research article, it takes me a couple of hours before I can even begin to think creatively. If I was switching every 10 and half minutes, there’s just no way I’d be able to think deeply about what I’m doing. This is really bad for innovation. When you’re on the treadmill like this, it’s just not possible to achieve flow.”

Technology is ubiquitous in professional services. It has helped automated and augment a range of tasks. Yet, if the main role of professional advisors is to think deeply about complex solutions and offer solutions, then technology is clearly a double-edged sword.

No wonder the internet is such a temptation

If you’re anything like me, you’ll spend quite a bit of your mental energy self-flagellating about being distracted. “Oh what a feeble creature with zero will-power! Do you really have to watch that soccer goal 3 times?! Do you expect the outcome of the match will change! What earth shattering message will appear in your inbox after 28 seconds have elapsed?”

Sure, will-power is part of the equation, but let’s keep in mind the other elements. Tristan Harris, founder of Center for HumaneTechnology  says: “You could say that it’s my responsibility … but that’s not acknowledging that there’s a thousand people on the other side of the screen whose job is to break down whatever responsibility I can maintain.” This man is a formerGoogle Design Ethicist who has seen the back kitchen of Silicon Valley.

How can you manage distractions?

Store tasks to process them later

Distractions are bound to happen in work. Creating a system that allows you to attend to those distractions as the work progresses is essential. You can use a bookmarking app to save webpages you find interesting for later processing rather than delving in into it right away. 

Create a healthy culture around technology use

Expecting professionals to attend to their email 24/7 is a recipe for an unhealthy relationship with technology and clients. Leaders can set expectations, and then led by example. Do professional service firm clients really want to receive anything other than a truly urgent email at 10pm? One former Australian managing partner of a global consulting firm would tell his staff to schedule the email for the morning, otherwise they would risk looking disorganised in the eyes of the client. Worse, the client may feel compelled to reply, late at night, and resent it.

Rituals: choose a ritual to mark the end of the work day

One of the challenges of remote work is that the end of the work day is not as clear as it is when you’re commuting. Psychologist Guy Winch tackles this problem: you can create your own ritual to make the transition such as changing your clothes as you start and end your work. An interesting case mentioned is a parent who after finishing his work at home drove his car around the block and then returned to his house announcing his arrival “I’m home” to his kids! Based on this, options for rituals are clearly limitless!

About the author

Hashem ElAssad is a Researcher, Writer and Content Creator in Psychology & Career Development. LinkedIn

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