by Edward Cone and Adrianna Gregory
EC: One-third of workers say they use tech devices largely out of habit or compulsion, fear of missing out, or social pressure. The other two-thirds are lying. That’s my take on our global survey about the modern office and its discontents. I mean, the top answer is “to stay in constant communication with my family and/or friends,” but isn’t that compulsion, FOMO, and peer pressure by another name? So I’m just going to own it: my phone owns me.
AG: The stat didn’t surprise either of us, but seeing it as a number made it scarier. I know I struggle to put my phone down, and find myself staring at it even when I don’t actively want to or have something much better to do right in front of me in the real world.
EC: Being online has diminishing returns. When my Facebook app glitched so I was seeing literally the same posts by the same people all the time, I realized it wasn’t much different from the regular Facebook experience. That was liberating. It made it easier not to pull my phone out every time my dog stops to pee.
AG: It feels great to take a break from social media and technology in general. I went on a cruise to Canada last year, at which point I learned that I am not a cruise person. I was seasick the whole time, not a fan of the forced social events, and trapped indoors by bad weather. Despite the less-than-ideal experience, I still fantasize about the trip sometimes, because I couldn’t use my phone while I was on the boat. No time spent obsessively checking my work email, texting, or filtering photos for Instagram. It was wonderful, and I wish I had the self-restraint to live my life like that on dry land.
EC: Yeah, someone might not drink because they doubt they could do it in moderation. But it’s hard to hold down a job, or just function in the modern world, without going online. I am trying to build some firewalls around my compulsions in the office. I push my phone to the center of the conference table during meetings. But like Richard Pryor’s talking pipe, my phone is always whispering to me.
AG: It's better for me to keep my phone out of my line of vision when I'm in the office. When I can’t see the blinking notifications of the group texts I’m in, I tend to focus better on the work in front of me, which makes me less stressed and probably helps me shut down my computer earlier at the end of the day.
EC: There’s a big question about why technology investments aren’t driving great productivity growth. Maybe it’s because we’re not doing productive things with the technology? Maybe if workers—and their bosses—could focus more, they wouldn’t have to work after hours so much.
AG: One of the executives we interviewed for the research, Emmajane Varley of HSBC, told us how important it is to let your personal life interfere with work, since most of us let work interrupt our personal lives all the time. She makes a good point; if employees are expected to be always connected to work, they should have the flexibility to live their lives within traditional office hours sometimes too. But making that work takes practice, and the occasional break. Being always connected—whether it’s to work or to friends and family or to our social networks of sort-of-acquaintances—is draining, and it’s important to fully unplug every once in a while. There are probably better ways to do it than boarding a cruise ship, though.
Edward Cone is the deputy director of Thought Leadership for Oxford Economics.
Adrianna Gregoryis the Associate Editor for Technology at Oxford Economics.