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Is technology getting in the way of your work?

Technology is continuing to change the way we work. In meetings, however, all this technology can be disruptive.

I know of a company which recently banned the use of mobile phones in meetings. Team members drop them in a box before they walk into a meeting, and can only collect them on the way out. It may sound a bit harsh and childlike (“Ok boys and girls, phones in the box!”), but it reflects technology’s infiltration into just about every facet of our lives, and some peoples’ reluctance to let it go, even for a few minutes. Just as it can inspire, enable collaboration and facilitate the streamlining of work processes, technology can also be an irritating distraction.

This company’s decision to ban phones in meetings was a response to the much-hyped ‘crackberry’ stereotype. Most of us have been there; you might be presenting at a meeting, and all attendees are making good eye contact, save for that guy in the back, who is flipping through his phone, annoying those around him as the soft tapping of his Blackberry keys fills the room. He’s pretending to be engaged, but he’s not fooling anybody. And if you were to take that BB away from him, he’d likely break out in a cold sweat and start getting fidgety. What if someone emails me? I NEED that phone; I NEED my fix! I simply CANNOT be unavailable for even a few minutes!

Technology has made our work days much easier, but it’s also resulted in some of us developing an unhealthy dependence on it, particularly the mobile phone.

Walk into some meetings these days, and you’re likely to see more people cradling tablet computers than the old-fashioned pad and pen. You don’t even have to be in the state, or country, to attend a meeting or briefing, because videoconferencing and live chat functions enable you to participate from a distant hotel room, or in an airport departure lounge.

The cost to companies to integrate these technologies into their businesses is coming down, making accessibility less of a problem. What this increasing ubiquity is also doing, however, is blurring the boundaries between work and non-work time. We’re checking our emails on the iPad at the dinner table because we intended to read up on some news, but the email inbox is open, so……

People are working more, and finding it increasingly difficult to switch off. Sometimes, though, we need to switch off. Every year, around December when I take holidays, I drastically reduce my use of technology. The computer — a daily and nightly companion for work, uni or recreation — sits on its charger instead of in my lap or on my desk. I disable my email inbox from my phone, meaning I’m not constantly checking what email has come in. In the lazy days of late December, meanwhile, I’ve even been known to let my phone run dead, even if only for a day or two.

It’s a very refreshing time of year, and a good realisation that the world will not, as some of us might like to believe, implode if I’m not accessible 24/7.

I go for walks. I read the newspaper (yes, they still exist), and take a warped delight in having to wash the newsprint off my fingers afterwards; none of those new-fangled app thing-a-me-jigs for me. Perhaps best of all, I find, after a few days out of my techie routine, I feel relaxed and, ahhem, recharged.

I’m back in the online world by early January with the rest of you, of course, but by spending just a few weeks out of action a year, has made me realise how all this technology that we intend to control for our own benefit, is sometimes controlling us.

What do you think? Is technology changing the way you work? Do you lament the days of the team huddle and blackboard, or are the boundary-less possibilities of technology making the world smaller, and you better connected?

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