Work Life Blending

The Digital Realities Of Work Life BlendingI’ve been in Maine for the past week on a so-called digital vacation. Yes, the craggy coastline, salt air and lobster rolls are great, but as for “getting away from it all”, it just ain’t happening as I imagined it could.

I’ve got my iPhone, my tablet, my laptop, my Twitter, my FB, my Instagram, my must-read blogs and must-visit sites. If anything I feel more plugged in up here because I’m not distracted by the white noise of urban life. It’s just me, the great outdoors, and the whole damn wired world.

Can I unplug? Honestly, well, Yes and no. Of course I could, in theory. In practice, I’ve got a lot of work-related balls in the air and I’m afraid if I step away they’ll all thud to earth. So I stay plugged in only for an hour each day. But in the evening, as I listen to the soothing roll of the surf and watch the moon rise over the horizon, I dream (between checking Twitter) of being really truly away from all things digital and electronic. For someone who is as strong a proponent of social media as I am, that’s a serious confession.

I love my career most days. I do live and breathe most of what I write and tweet about. I believe that Talent Management, Workplace Culture and Leadership, done right, helps employees have fulfilling careers (and by extension lives outside of work), and leads companies to superb performance, talent retention and healthy profits. But I think the ambiguity I felt in Maine this week is becoming endemic in our workplaces (and lives): the amazing technological tools and toys we know and love are in danger of overwhelming us.

It raises some serious questions. Are they serving us, or are we serving them? Have we become addicted? Are digital connections weaning us of our ability to make deeper, more satisfying ones? I don’t have any easy answers, but I do think these questions will only grow more important in the days ahead. Those of us committed to HR and creating a leadership culture that is sustainable have a responsibility to formulate solutions, ways in which both employees and leaders can achieve a healthy balance between work, technology, and life.

Some HR departments and leaders are seeking novel and exciting answers. This Sunday, July 7, Styles section of the New York Times has a fascinating article by Matt Haber that tells of his visit to Camp Grounded in northern California. Run by a company called Digital Detox, the camp’s mission is to teach us how to “disconnect to reconnect”. The rules are pretty simple: no computers, phones, tablets or watches. (Just writing that sentence I felt myself begin to sweat: cold turkey is traumatizing.)

The weekend camp for 300 is filled with games, physical activities, bonding exercises, and music. There’s a typewriter (remember those?) tent and all-night tea lounge (in a yurt – hey, its northern California). The experience is an eye opener for many participants, who claim to gain a new perspective on their dependence on technology and on themselves. In the same vein, Haber reports, organizations like Reboot are advocating a National Day of Unplugging. Even Arianna Huffington is extolling the virtues of taking a break from technology.

The fact is that the digital data stream has turned into a rushing rapids. HR departments, leaders, and employees must learn to manage the deluge – or risk drowning in it.

Now I’m going to go take one last walk along the beach – it’s the perfect place to catch up on my e-mails.