Communication, collaboration, compulsion

by Adrianna Gregory

Like most companies, the Thought Leadership team at Oxford Economics is pretty spread out. We are based in New York, but have editors in San Francisco and London. It is rare that we are all in the same room or time zone.

Running our projects effectively requires us to be in constant communication with each other, so most of us feel a personal responsibility to be “always on,” checking emails no matter where we are or what we’re doing. Most days, I spend a significant amount of time virtually sharing a computer screen with Ed, the Technology Practice Lead, while we work together on survey development, data analysis, writing, and more. Ed and I are usually in the same city, but real-time collaboration might be harder for Ben—another Associate Editor on our team—when he juggles schedules with Michael in San Francisco.

We depend on technology to get us through the work day and beyond—but what happens when our devices become more than just productivity tools and our use of them becomes compulsive? What does it say about our sleep cycles or our mental states if a blinking email notification in the middle of the night drives us not just to check, but to respond, to the latest message in our inbox?

It’s a widely recognized problem: Our inability to tear our eyes from our phones, even when we know we should be focusing on the person or the task in front of us, is a mainstay of everyday conversation. And more and more research is surfacing that highlights the potential negative consequences of our dependence on tech devices (see this recent piece from The New York Times about how our phones and the apps on them are designed to be addictive—but anyone who has seen a baby in front of an iPad can tell you that).

Over the past few months, Ed and I have been working on a study about 24/7 connectivity, and technology’s role in our work and personal lives. Among the results (which we’ll be able to talk about in greater depth in early 2016) are some stats that underscore technology’s dark side, like the fact that a substantial number of workers we surveyed say they use their tech devices primarily out of habit, compulsion, or fear of missing out.

How can we stay on top of our work and keep in contact with our friends and family without falling into the habit of feverishly hitting “refresh?” How do we block out distractions when calls, texts, and emails are flying at us from every direction? Maybe there’s an app for that?

Adrianna Gregory is the Associate Editor for Technology at Oxford Economics, where she helps manage research programs on topics including cloud computing, the Internet of Things, and global talent trends.