When was the last time you looked a colleague in the eye? During a first meeting, an initial interview? Hard to say. As we bury our faces in smartphones, phablets, tablets, and laptops, an office full of smart, creative people can start to seem like a team of zombies--distracted, disconnected, and isolated. Small wonder there's so much talk of open office spaces and revitalizing company culture. Too many workplaces are suffering from workplace ADD.
As you embrace new technologies, it becomes difficult to stay focused. According to late Stanford psychology professor Clifford Nass, multitasking, while seemingly productive, is actually killing our creativity and concentration. While some employees may shake heads and roll eyes, the benefit of deliberately detaching from personal devices during work will reconnect the office in a way no technology can offer.
Bringing the focus back to the here and now in the office can't happen without some managerial implementation and good old group effort, though. Around 2002, when my friends and I had our first BlackBerrys and we'd get together for drinks or dinner, we implemented a system we dubbed "call the call." That meant if you sat down with us at dinner and you did not mention who was going to call you or why you needed to speak with them, then you couldn't answer the phone during the dinner. So, if I sat down and said, "I'm expecting a call from my mother, who's driving from Arizona," I could pick up that call. If you didn't announce the call and still answered the phone. the rest of the group was free to call the person out on it. Let's bring this back: call the call, call the text, call the email. Keep each other accountable.
As the holidays approach, it may be a good time to come together and combat this ADD as an office. Instead of downloading the latest Christmas app and laughing at screens alone during coffee breaks, here are some ways to countdown to the holidays together and collectively become more present in the new year:
Put Your Phone Away When You're Talking to Someone
Seems like a no-brainer, but it happens all the time. Texting, looking at emails, or browsing Instagram while engaged in a conversation with your colleague isn't a conversation at all. Your colleague is apt to feel slighted, as if what's on the phone is more important than they are. In some cases, maybe it is, but that's when you politely excuse yourself. You'll be seen as disengaged and aloof if you're on your phone while talking to someone in person.
Silence Your Phone (and Close the Laptop) During Meetings
Close the computer, join the meeting. If the meeting isn't important enough to silence phones while it takes place, it probably shouldn't be happening in the first place. Often times when people are on their devices during meetings, the session drags out. There are so many instances of "Wait, can you say that again" and "Sorry, I got distracted" that it really disengages other members and brings down the morale of the entire room. An easy 15 minutes can turn into a grueling 60 minutes if people remain distracted on devices.
Be Real During Meals
Business lunches are ripe for distraction. How many times have you seen an entire table of suits out to eat, each engaged in their own separate conversation on their own separate device? This has to stop. Being mobile conscious and staying present is something that takes a village, though, so one way we can all stay more present is to encourage one another.
Hold a Weekly Device-Free Meeting
Preferably at the start or finish of the week, this meeting can work as a way for all team members to check in with one another. When we hide behind our computers and our devices we place a barrier between ourselves and our colleagues. This meeting may feel a little uncomfortable at first, but it will help each team member understand where the other is with work as well as personal life (yes, this stuff is starting to matter more and more as the line between work and life continues to blur).
Take a Device-Free Hour
Just like you take a lunch hour away from work, take a break from your device. Set aside a time each day to stop touching your device for one hour. Another way to help curb the urge to check is to disable needless push notifications. Any social, non-work related push notifications should be disabled in order to help each employee stay focused at work without a constant urge to check Instagram or respond to a Facebook chat. These are simple suggestions, but they go a long way, and your employees will be thankful for the push.