I switched on my laptop to check on my holiday resort reservation and a message popped on my screen, an accusing one at that: “What are you doing online on vacation? Checking email or responding to some crisis that requires your intervention? Or just that you cannot get work out of your veins?”. I tried to justify to her that I was not checking mails, nor facing anxiety or withdrawal symptom disconnected from my mail. I was just checking on my bookings and that’s that. “Then why is your corporate IM on?” she chided.
It’s that time of the year when everyone, well almost everyone (travel and hospitality industries excluded) is on vacation. Whichever part of the world you look at, across cultures, companies, industries, everyone is on vacation as evidenced by their “Out Of Office” messages. It’s like the entire world shuts down for a period of 2-3 weeks going out on trips, spending time together with family and/or friends, enjoying snow or the sun, and to that extent business for most comes to grinding slow motion if not fully shut.
Over the years OOO (Out of office) messages have increased during festive seasons and less frequent for rest of the year. Immediate conclusion would be that people are working harder through the year and then taking a good long well deserved vacation. It could also imply that irrespective of travel, vacation, weekend or time of the day, everyone gets their hands on their mobile devices and feel gratification giving attention to whatever came in or responding to mail, or just checking out or updating social status.
Our need to constantly check our smartphones has resulted in a situation that we compulsively want to stay connected all the time. It is now psychological and nothing to do with work or life or the balance that was a discussion in the past. To check my hypothesis I sent messages to about 600+ people in my list; CEOs, Head of business, friends, relatives, and loads of business acquaintances. I received about 200 odd out of office messages telling me that they were on vacation and not likely to respond to messages.
The subject line clearly indicated “Seasons’ Greeting” and thus was not urgent, important, a crisis or life threatening to merit immediate attention or response. Despite this, within 24 hours I received about 70 responses to my messages from those who had set OOO status! Most messages carried a “Sent from a …..” footer. Was it an acknowledgement of the greeting or my hypothesis that we have become slaves to technology? I now know which smartphones they use or service provider they have subscribed to.
There was a time when I would respond to every message that needed a response or I had a view on as soon as it landed in my inbox. Everyone loved it and commended my quick response; I was on 24 hour clock, not that it helped my life at home, I was thumb happy. Is it more to do with the way the stimulus response is changing rather than just work or life? Are there any remedies available beyond old and simple willpower? Is there a way out for the corporate bonded labourers armed with technology that keeps them in chains?
Reality is that this is self-imposed nemesis of time, energy and expectations; if anything indeed merits response, do it, in most cases the urgent or critical will not land in your inbox, people will call you. Messages with scores in “To” or “cc”, rarely require critical review or immediate attention. A 24 hour cooling period is equally good in most cases and works well enough. Exceptions could be individually marked messages that may come to you from your Boss or a peer CXO for information or action.
Driving back from a vacation with the family comprising two teenaged kids, I noticed that both were constantly glued onto the small screen with rapid thumb movements and fleeting expressions as they deftly switched from screen to screen and application to application. There was little communication between us as I maneuvered the traffic and they sent updates ad infinitum. I wonder how the new generation would behave during their vacations or work; would it be in anyway separable for them?