5 Secrets to Controlling Technology (and not letting IT control YOU!)

by Chris C. Ducker · 9 comments

Note from Chris: I’m in the process of preparing for back surgery (thanks to all of you who have sent ‘good luck’ messages), so today I’d like to hand over the blog to the very capable and informative friend of mine, Phil Montero from The Anywhere Office. In today’s guest post, Phil (pictured, left) will provide answers to a few frequently asked questions about common pitfalls of a digital workplace. Something that, as new-age entrepreneurs, we must always pay attention.

Over to Phil…

Information Overload

Q: As mobile technology has transformed business and the workplace in the past few years, is information overload now a concern for businesses and their employees?

A: Yes information overload is a concern as we are exposed to much more information than ever before.  Email, blogs, podcasts, social media, video, TV, newspapers, and other media can make it hard to keep up. It used to be there was a much smaller pool of information and it was mostly consumed in the workplace – but with today’s mobile tools we can access and consume this information from pretty much anywhere.

It is an advantage but it can also be a challenge to know when and how to turn it off and take a break without getting overwhelmed.

Hardware Convergence

Q: In terms of hardware we use multiple devices including laptops, cell phone, work computer, tablet, etc, and online people increasingly have several email accounts, twitter, facebook and so on -  do you see this trend for multiplicity increasing in the years ahead, or would you expect them to converge and simplify – i.e. one piece of hardware to do everything, a unified online persona?

A: I see a form of convergence already taking place today.  Many people use a laptop, but also a tablet or smartphone to access the same information when they are mobile.  Thanks to cloud computing and the increasing inter-connectivity of software and applications there is already a lot of convergence.  For example, I have helped clients move their calendars, mail, and document collaboration to the cloud allowing them to use any device they have to access that information without duplicating documents or messages.  It is also becoming more common for a single programs to allow you to interact with Facebook, linkedin, twitter, and other social media sites.

RSS tools (like Google Reader for instance) make it easy to share information you find on any social media service, via email, or to programs like Evernote.  I think there will always be multiple services but the hardware, software and services we use will increasingly allow you to combine that information into one central place or interface.

Timezones and Communication

Q: In a global workplace, do you think working evenings and weekends – especially to communicate between different timezones, is simply the reality now?

Yes, I do feel a reality of our more global workplace is workshifting – working from different locations and times.  Smart companies will embrace this by allowing their employees greater flexibility in where and when they work.  At first you might think having to work on an evening or a weekend means you never get to unplug and are simply working more, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Many companies are embracing what they call ROWE (a Results Only Work Environment), which essentially means your work hours are much more under your control provided the work gets done (your work is measured on deliverables rather than a set number of hours you work).  With that type of philosophy, someone who needs to work during the night or on a weekend might not be working during the day so they can spend time with their family or pursue other personal development goals they have.

With the mobile tools and access to information we have today it’s possible to have a greater level or “work life integration”.  You might do a bit of work during a vacation but in turn that might be a vacation you couldn’t have taken in the past because of that work. It is a new form of “work life balance” that I think has a greater fit with the way work happens today.

24/7 Contact

Q: How can firms ensure their staff are not put under more pressure from tools that are supposed to make their lives easier?

A: Companies can discuss what are on/off times for employees and respect that time.  Just because you can send or reply to an email anytime doesn’t mean you should be expected to.  I think setting up acceptable and open communications guidelines (i.e. turnaround time for voicemail/email, what times/days are you expect to be accessible) can go a long way toward knowing when it’s OK to turn off or unplug from your mobile work tools. Granted, there may be certain times during important projects that exceptions need to be made, but it’s important for these guidelines to be setup and respected.

Digital Disruptions

Q: What can individual business people do to sort their communication technology so they are not disturbed by non-essential or untimely interruptions?

One key to managing your communication technology is knowing how to use it.  For example, with smartphones there are ways to turn off audible or visible notifications during times when you don’t want to be interrupted by them.  On a weekend, or at night, do you really need to be alerted every time a new email arrives in your inbox?  Someone else on your team might be working at that time but it doesn’t mean you need that notification right away.  Part of your communication guidelines is not only setting up expected turnaround times for different forms of communication but also a priority level.  So, for example, you might decide that voice calls are used for priority messages versus email or IM.  That allows your team members and employees to “turn off” their email or IM during non-essential times, knowing that if something really important turns up they can still be reached.

The communication guidelines need to be discussed and preferably decided on as a group.  They also need to be clear and open so that everyone understands and abides by them.

Chris: This article is seriously important to digest. There’s a lot of great stuff in here. I particularly liked Phil’s points on managing email, which I’ve gone into quite a bit of depth about before and the importance of work/life balance, too. 

One thing is for sure, the importance of technology in business isn’t going to start slow down, if anything, we’re going to be more tech-savvy and sexy than ever in the coming years. However, as business owners and entrepreneurs that are wanting to remain (or even just become!) uber successful, its important that we appreciate technology and what it can do for us, but not become bogged down (or even slowed down!) by it. Switch off for a while, peeps. Enjoy the view – wherever you may be.

My thanks to Phil for a great guest post submission, and please feel free to post your own views on the subject, along with any stories, ideas and resources that you feel are relevant to what we’re all trying to achieve in our lives.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve Wyman March 21, 2012 at 03:24

Hi Phil

I think there is a sort of convergence going on but not in hardware. Most if not all of my non IM friends have a smart phone, and a PC, Digital TV as each does a better job that they could coolectively (40″ screen is going to be a tablet screen etc) . Some have iPads as well.

What i do believe we are fast moving towards is a cloud life for our Data. You suggest that anyway.

Personelly i find the issue is with teh data streams now available and Ive spoken to Chris about this in email. To find out whats happening with people i follow i now have to
subscribe to email feeds
check the website incase the notification didnot work (they often dont!)
join facebook fanpages
Join twiter streams

And get some work done :-) I’d like to see those streams integrated more. and reduce my digital disturbance.

I’d also say that when doing fast growth or starting out its impossible to switch off from the data stream. Im sure you found that as well. I do make a point of going out and watchthing the world (girls) go buy at the coffe shop though :-)

Very thought provoking guest post

regards

Reply

Phil Montero March 25, 2012 at 08:20

Hey Steve,

Thanks for your comments and I agree with you the multiple data streams to keep up can be maddening. Some friends send me messages via Facebook, others email, etc. as you pointed out.

One thing that helps is apps like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck where you can use one tool to monitor multiple streams. For example I can use Hootsuite to keep up with Facebook (personal and biz page), LinkedIn, Twitter, and a growing other assortments of data streams.

I’m not sure the streams themselves will ever converge completely but at least with tools like these we can go to one place to keep up with them all.

Glad to hear you still get out now and again!

Phil

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Stephen Jeske March 21, 2012 at 06:06

Phil I think the 24/7 availability issue causes more stress than most of us realize. Just because your phone or your computer is off, it doesn’t mean you are!

Many people have problems letting go and taking some well deserved rest, for fear of “missing out”. Often it’s a problem of misplaced priorities, in that everything is important… which in itself another issue.

The digital workplace is often equated with working from home (for good reason) and that in itself can cause a lot of stress, not withstanding any technological issues.

Reply

Phil Montero March 25, 2012 at 08:23

You said it Stephen. Even though your hardware is off and unplugged doesn’t mean you are. It’s critical to find ways to truly remove ourselves from the daily chaos that can come from the digital workplace.

I find meditation and exercise to be great ways to do this and really get my mind off of work and such. I would be interested to hear what the other folks on VBL do – comments?

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Anshul March 25, 2012 at 07:26

From my experience, this largely comes down to self management. Gadgets are a reality of life in 2012 and just about every influential person in the internet realm has a weakness for these tools by means of over usage. I tend to set aside time for how I am going to use each tool at different times of the day.

For eg Ipad for drafting blog posts, also a little light reading and research before bedtime. I even use the Iphone for time management using the simple Pomodoro app (as many others do). So, depends on how much control you can exercise to use these tools to you advantage.

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Phil Montero March 25, 2012 at 08:25

Great point you raised about self management Anshul – not always easy but very important. I like the way you carve out time for your different tools and have specific uses for them. Sounds like that works well for you!

Reply

Carlos Mateo March 26, 2012 at 22:44

Good article!

I think information overload is a big problem in the IM community. While it is important to know the current trends and tools, it is very easy to get carried away and spend too much time “researching” and not enough producing. Too many bright shiny objects out there!!

After realizing that information overload was killing my productivity I decided to set a rule for when I am allowed to look around for information. Now that I forced myself to do productive work in the mornings and research and brainstorming new ideas in the afternoon my productivity is much higher.

Reply

Phil Montero March 27, 2012 at 01:47

Hey Carlos,

Glad you liked the article and thanks for sharing your tip about separating “researching” from “doing”. I have to raise my hand as I am guilty as charged. I can research with the best of them but I too have learned you need to draw a line in the sand and as yoda said and just “Do or Do Not”.

That’s great that you have found a way to make yourself more productive my looking at and changing your workflow. That is the important step to figuring out how to work successfully in The Anywhere Office.

Reply

Phil Montero March 27, 2012 at 01:49

BTW Chris – thanks so much for the props my friend. I am happy to count myself as part of the VBL tribe and always love the chance to guest post especially for all the create comment discussions

I encourage you all to chime in and share a tip or two.

Best of luck with the back surgery Chris – we will all be thinking of you!

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