In considering the 24-hour connectivity question, HR is in a unique position.
On one hand, many HR professionals are guilty of propagating the ‘always on’ problem. Does responding to emails well past business hours or conducting an interview with an overseas candidate in the middle of the night sound familiar? Yet on the other hand, HR are also agents of change and can be the ones to break the cycle of 24-hour connectivity, both with themselves, and throughout organisations.
According to Leslie Perlow, professor of leadership at Harvard Business School and author of Sleeping with your Smartphone, many professionals don’t recognise that, while accepting there are external and legitimate factors that affect how much we work – the more available we make ourselves, the more entrenched in the cycle of 24-hour connectivity we become.
In her research Perlow discovered that by accepting the pressure to be “on”, usually as a result of legitimate constraints such as working across different time zones, professionals start to accommodate the pressure even more. “Once our colleagues experience our increased responsiveness, their requests on our time expand. Already ‘on’, we accept these increased demands, while those who don't risk being evaluated as ‘less committed’ to their work,” Perlow wrote. She calls the dilemma the “cycle of responsiveness” and points out that in the effort to accommodate an ever-increasing number of requests, alongside growing expectations of colleagues, clients and ourselves, the pressure can spiral out of control.
The cycle of responsiveness has profound implications on work lives and work processes. “When we are trapped, we don't think about better, faster, and more effective ways of working. Rather, we just keep working more and more, perpetuating and amplifying the bad intensity in our work,” Perlow said.
Breaking the ‘always on’ cycle is difficult to do alone, and Perlow recommends joining forces with those whom you interact most frequently. Here are some ways to get started:
Join forces. Talk to those with whom you interact most frequently and agree on times when you'll all be offline and unavailable. Maybe it's an evening off, an email blackout over the weekend, or uninterrupted work times during the day.
Experience the joy of turning off. Pay attention to what it feels like to be offline. It may be hard at first but you'll enjoy the benefits of relaxation and increased focus soon enough.
Make time each week to get together to discuss your progress and your work process more generally. This might seem like time you don't have, but in the end, it will improve your work process, and save you time.