Turn off, tune in
If you have ever sat in the ‘quiet coach’ of a train you may have a sneaking admiration for Francoise Hollande’s decision to ban mobile phones from French cabinet meetings. With the French economy struggling, the President decided that he needs nothing less than the full attention of cabinet members to tackle the country’s problems.
He is not alone in making a stand against the 24/7 tyranny of the mobile phone; unions and employers in France’s high-tech and consultancy sectors have signed a new labour agreement designed to protect workers from being bombarded with work phone calls and emails in the evening after working long days.
It is not a blanket ban on work emails and calls after 6pm, as it only covers people on certain contracts. The new agreement contains an ‘obligation to disconnect communication tools’ to ensure people have time to recover from the rigours of working up to 13 hour days.
The kickback against 24/7 contact is not restricted to the Continent - in Ireland restaurateurs have been debating whether to introduce mobile phone bans to allow people to enjoy dining in peace. Even pubs are getting in on the act, I saw a sign last week which said: ‘No wifi here, speak to the one you are with.’
Even (or maybe particularly) working in the ‘always-on’ world of customer contact, we all need a break from the constant deluge of calls, emails and texts to focus on what is important. However, the perils of being found wanting when it comes to responding swiftly to customers’ needs across every channel, have resulted in a gnawing anxiety that leads us to believe that we can never afford to be out of touch.
There are times however when we need to step out of the loop, and find time for uninterrupted focused discussions designed to move us forward rather than finding ourselves trapped in a ‘Groundhog Day’ universe, repeating the same actions endlessly.
In the din of multi-channel communication, it is frighteningly easy to lose the capacity to think strategically about what we are doing and what must change in order to introduce better ways of working and of serving our customers.
I am not suggesting for a minute that we respond like King Canute, trying to hold back the tide of 24/7 digital communication - that would be both foolish and futile. But, differentiating between what is important and urgent and what can wait a little longer has become more and more difficult and it is vital to take time out from the daily grind to determine how to get better at doing this.
Remember the 60s slogan ‘Turn on, tune in, drop out’? It was popularised by counter culture guru Timothy Leary, but the phrase was actually coined by Marshall McLuhan, an academic widely regarded as a ‘prophet of the electronic age’ who predicted back in the 1960s that computers would break down global communication barriers.
To paraphrase McLuhan, half a century onwards, there is much to be said for turning off in order to tune in better.
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