The advice seems counterintuitive: The key to coping with potential burnout in this age of rapid-fire digital interaction is spending more time connected.
Yes. There are perils to what some pundits call the “digital deluge.” In her commentary “9 Ways Technology is Slowly Killing Us All,” InformationWeek associate editor Kelly Sheridan writes: “Adults who get too much screen time are also known to suffer from insomnia, short-term memory loss, eye irritation and spinal damage.”
But what’s clear after reading Sheridan’s full piece is her provocative headline is intended to draw attention to an important question she poses in the conclusion: “Are you spending too much time online?”
None of us in business should answer this question until considering first the matter of how much time is “too much” screen time. Because, as we have argued in one of our past posts, screen time can help equip your brain with the necessary skill set for efficient and effective virtual collaboration:
- Executive Function Skills -- Sandra Calvert, professor of psychology at Georgetown University, believes screen time can boost what she calls “executive function skills” that include competencies such as reasoning and problem-solving, which inform business communications.
- A Knack for Brevity -- Hours preparing for virtual meetings by reviewing emails and text messages necessarily lead to hours participating in these sessions. Calvert feels this process can motivate business communicators to keep dialog brief and focused on essentials.
- Rapid Shifting, Fast Tracking, Timely Insight – Nicholas Carr, best-selling author and contributor to the Harvard Business Review, Wall Street Journal, New York Times and other esteemed publications, once told Fast Company: “People’s ability to keep track of lots of different images or other bits of information simultaneously gets better [through screen time]… So, the more time you spend online, you get quicker in your ability to shift your visual focus from one thing to another,” which can translate into the ability to track multiple business issues—and articulate them to colleagues in short order.
Sure. The pace of virtual collaboration can be rigorous. After all, today’s digital tools enable any of us to reach any colleague, customer or partner anywhere at any time from any place.
We feel the crux of the issue with screen time, however, is qualitative, not quantitative. Whether online time fans the flames of your productivity or burns them out is not determined by how much time you stay connected. Rather, it’s decided by with whom you are connected and for what purposes.
So we believe in this age, when digital technology is creating an unprecedented number of connections between more people in more places than at any time in human history, successfully dealing with the real challenges of virtual collaboration is a matter of choice: Are you chasing the pace? Or setting it?
And each of us is in good position to choose, because Unified Communications (UC) solutions enable collaborative leadership – i.e., they enable any one of us to play a part in leading our organizations by leading business interactions with colleagues, customers and partners. In fact, one of the strengths of collaborative communicators is the ability to shift perspectives nimbly, to swing smoothly between the roles of team leader and team contributor.
- Be Vigilant for Yourself & Your Teammates – Learn the warning signs of business burnout, which often extend beyond professional hours into personal time. Watch for these three big red flags in your own behavior and among members of your team:
- Health Problems – Are you and/or your teammates getting sick frequently?
- Cognitive Difficulties – Has there been a rash of silly mistakes, poor decisions and/or emotional outbursts by you and/or on the part of several team members?
- Negativity – Are you and others focusing on the downside of opportunities? Judging others quickly? Expressing cynicism in meetings?
- Fine Tune Listening – When you see signs of burnout, make a deliberate effort to improve your listening skills and encourage other teammates to do the same. In this way, you can address the stress of fast-paced collaboration by collaborating more. In other words, let the pressure push you all closer together, not farther apart.
- Set a Positive Example – As HubSpot blogger Karla Cook writes: “If you slave away at your computer… never take a break, your team members will see this as an example… and mirror your own unhealthy behaviors.”
Overall, the secret may be accepting the ironic truth in the counterintuitive. As Fast Company columnist Jenny Blake explains in a recent post, having feelings of burnout can be a natural part of growth. “To reject them,” she says, “and punish ourselves for feeling bored or stagnant or unhappy, is to reject new information.”
And that rejection could lead to ignoring your own progress and, in turn, curbing your organization’s success.