Should Business Be Concerned About Digital Detox?


Right now there’s something of a backlash against technology in many circles.  Every day the press is full of stories about how technology is creeping into more and more areas of our lives, trashing our social skills and turning us into a race that has to be connected even to function.  There are reports, mostly negative, that technology is so pervasive at work and it continues eating into our leisure time – the average US adult reportedly spends more than half of his or her waking life staring at a screen.

I’ll not deny that there are issues and indeed that our cultural norms are changing, but I am not yet ready to jump onto the digital detox bandwagon. Technology is an incredibly powerful tool, which has brought enormous positive change to our world.  It has transformed the economy, helped build bridges – both literally and figuratively – and revolutionized the way we work. What concerns me now, is that this anti-tech feeling is spilling over into the workplace. If the workforce starts to distance themselves from the very methods that make their working lives so much easier and more effective, we have a problem on our hands.

Let us imagine a scenario, one that in my consulting world, I ran into recently.  An organization has been using paper-based systems as part of its annual performance review program. The method works, but it’s cumbersome, error prone and expensive. At board level, a decision is made to implement new Human Capital Management software which will empower the workforce, cut down on data entry errors and deliver HR headcount savings. So far so good, but at the same time, one influential employee announces that this vacation he’s taking a digital detox. He’s leaving behind the cell and the tablet. He’s ignoring the email inbox and the SMS and heading off to the woods to reconnect with his ‘authentic self’.

That one employee’s actions can have a big impact, especially if he returns from his annual trip determined to keep up with his new way of living. Instead of embracing a fast, effective way to feedback on his goals and achievements, he’ll resist it. He’ll resent the very technology that could take him, his colleagues and the organization he works for to higher levels of performance.

What we’ve got here is a problem with perception. The term digital detox does technology no favors. That sneaky little suggestion that anything digital is poison does damage. It is important to realize that technology alone is neither wholly good nor wholly evil. Technology is a tool, and we’re the master of that tool. When we use it right, it doesn’t destroy our lives, it enriches it.  A smart deployment strategy for our hypothetical organization would have carried that message to every user, including to our skeptical ‘detoxer’.  

We shouldn’t ignore genuine concerns about ‘yet another’ thing that’s gone online or fears of never being able to fully ‘switch off’, but we can manage these concerns and create positives with a little work. Well-managed technology deployments realize that all users are different and that some are prejudiced or change-averse, but even for these individuals, adoption of new technologies doesn’t have to be a battle. With personalized support and communications, relevant and accessible training and feedback, every user can become engaged and effective. The fact that the solution is a digital one should disappear. The key things the user should take away is how much easier, faster and more enjoyable it was to get the task done. It’s a matter of selling the benefits, not the name of the software, not the training on how to use it and not the usage of dumb terms like 'self-service' without making the employee feel they are getting value.

Technology in business isn’t going away. It can’t. It’s too effective to be ignored and in most instances doesn’t deserve to be disparaged, but it does need to be managed and deployed with the workforce, not the power user in mind. A big part of that is managing, understanding and respecting various attitudes to our digital toolbox. And while we’re doing that, let’s not be guilty of using the term detox alongside digital. 

Another infusion of knowledge...


Originally posted on Rethinking the Future of Work Blog. 




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