And now comes Slack ...
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And now comes Slack ...
What price do working people pay for constant digital availability?
"My boss says I must join a WhatsApp group or I will be dismissed immediately", wrote a user of the platform gutefrage.net in summer 2017. The answers from the other users to his question of whether he must join the group show one thing plainly: it is clear, as regards this subject, that nothing is clear. Presumably he need not – but should he?
The full extent of the issue can already be seen here. Nor basically are there any simple answers to the question of how high the price is for being always available via digital media.
Digital availability – a dissolution of boundaries or a gain in freedom?
The way people deal with smartphones, e-mails, cloud systems and all the rest is as various as the people themselves are. Some find it is a pest to be reachable by boss, colleagues or customers all the time – after work, at weekends, or even on holiday. Others see this as an extension of their opportunities, a gain in flexibility and freedom. Many do not succeed in distancing themselves, and so the way in which digital availability entwines work with leisure degenerates for them into a dissolution of boundaries. Others yet again handle the various digital tools masterfully and thereby gain in efficiency – and ideally in free time. And others yet again refuse any acceptance and, in doing so, no doubt pay a price.
Only one in four is "off" after work
As early as 2016 the opinion-research institute YouGov showed in a representative survey that three out of four workers in Germany answer business e-mails and telephone calls outside their working hours. And also that not all of them find that this technology makes their lives more stressful. In legal terms it is clear at least that employees do not need to deal with e-mails and telephone calls from work outside their working hours. But practice shows that only 26 percent never answer business phone calls or e-mails outside their actual working hours. 27 percent do this seldom, 31 percent sometimes, and 14 percent all the time. The differences between age groups are actually quite limited.
The brain needs downtimes
The idea that business e-mails and short messages during your free time lead to stress is a widely held view. There is less consensus on whether the mere possibility of constant availability leads to more stress. As the Harvard Business Manager wrote in 2016, if even when work is over for the day, or at the weekend, we are constantly checking our smartphone or computer for messages and e-mails, we are definitely denying our brain the important downtimes it needs to recover and recharge with new energy – and that in this way productivity and creativity flag. A survey by the Health and Work Initiative (iga) showed that about a fifth of those questioned who could be reached outside their working hours were impaired in their sleep and recovery periods.
E-mail truce or Slack?
Some major concerns – Deutsche Telekom is one of them – are therefore trying to dam the e-mail flood by making their executive managers agree not to send e-mails after close of work. Other companies, such as Volkswagen and Porsche, simply cap the access to the e‑mail business account at certain times. More and more firms are dashing in the other direction and are introducing the Slack chat program, which is supposed to bundle other communication channels together or replace them and, with team communication in real-time, to optimise collaboration on all terminals. Though it is questionable whether for that reason it is really possible to do without e-mails and if the other messenger services don't pop up on the screen anyway. An ordered e-mail truce may be an option in major groups, although it would surely be difficult to put into practice in the upper echelons, and all the easier to evade.
Proportionality and "digital detox"
There surely is no silver bullet to solve these problems, and in the last resort every company and every individual needs to act for themselves in the matter and find their own way of coming to terms with the new digital world. If you can control it, and not be controlled by it, you can also reap certain benefits: with home office, flexible working hours and locations, a greater ease in combining work and family, for instance. Ultimately it all comes down to the industry and the employee's position in the firm. In many jobs people cannot, and will not, divide themselves into a private and a professional person, and in certain positions you simply can't allow it, e.g. as an entrepreneur. So the author's recommendation would be to practise a due sense of proportion in conjunction with a strong dose of common sense. And no doubt it does everyone good to go "off" now and then for a certain time and to practice some "digital detox" – there are even apps for it!
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