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It’s a date in the not-too-distant future. Apple has just brought out the latest incarnation of the iSomething, Microsoft is on Windows 47, and the latest Samsung phone has set the markets on fire again! Of course, it’s expected that everyone is excited over the latest tech innovations – cue ads showing multigenerational, multiethnicity faces happily using whatever the must-have device is. It goes without saying that the devices will work smarter, faster, with even more functionality to help us ‘connect’ with anyone and anything, anywhere, anytime. No doubt well-worn rhetoric of how this brings us all ‘closer’ will be insinuated into the ad somewhere as well.
When ‘now’ isn’t soon enough
Technology has been steadily (if not stealthily) evolving, and training us to respond faster and faster. As we have become used to replying to texts, tweets, Facebook posts, instant messaging—the list grows every day—so our expectations of what is a ‘normal’ response time have changed forever, and this has bled into our working practices. Cast your mind back 5 years, 10 years, maybe—like me—you can even remember what work (and life) was like pre-internet, when exemplary customer service meant you responded the same day, not within 15 minutes (and that was when you were both in the same time zone, on a work day, and the request came in the morning).
Those days are gone, and if you don’t get back to someone the moment their message comes in, you’re likely to get a follow up soon after. That puts a lot of pressure on people. It forces them to watch their tech devices, often at the expense of the person trying to talk to them in person, or to the detriment of the work they’re supposed to be doing.
More data isn’t necessarily better
The fact that technology originally intended to make our working lives easier has had the opposite effect of making it harder is not going unnoticed by 90% of CEOs cited in Deloitte’s 2017, Global Human Capital Report. As I point out in my forthcoming book, (still unnamed … yikes!), technology has given us access to more information than ever, but often it is in a raw, unedited form which then needs to be interpreted before it can be made sense of and turned into something useful. For many, the unrelenting internal pressures to win, to be decisive and to be seen as a top producer is too much. Combine this with their ever-growing pile of work and the requirement to meet the demands of customers and stakeholders around the world 24/7, and you have employees and leaders who are stressed, exhausted and overwhelmed, despite putting on a brave face.
Are you part of the problem?
You might be thinking; there has always been stress and tight deadlines. Is it really any different now? 
It’s a valid thought, so let’s evaluate your own behaviour.
  • Do you feel compelled to check your phone every few seconds despite being in the middle of a conversation?
  • In meetings, are you surreptitiously (or brazenly!) checking email, instant messenger and online noticeboards?
  • When asked for information, do you find yourself saying something along the lines of “I know I have that somewhere. Can I come back to you?” instead of being able to recall that information then and there?
  • Is it a real effort to shut off the technology and focus exclusively on one single task; one meeting; or even, one simple conversation?
If you are a leader, ask yourself those questions while observing the behaviour of your direct reports, and you might be surprised at what you notice. Ask yourself whether your colleagues and direct reports are taking their cues from you. Is your own behaviour putting increased pressure on them to respond in the same way?
The first step to feeling less overwhelmed in the workplace is to pause and reflect on your own actions. Yes, there is a lot to respond to and that won’t slow down. Successful leaders focus on the moment they’re in and are deliberate with their actions. Cast this shadow and you will have a workplace revolution. There will always be lots to do. The question is how present are you in doing it?
In the next article in this series, I’ll explore how to address the constant drive for change and the increasing uncertainty of the business environment.
Carolyn Swora
Carolyn Swora is a workplace culture architect who facilitates development in three core areas; Courage, Resilience and Belonging. Join Carolyn in a conversation via email, LinkedIn, and Instagram. Carolyn’s book, “Rules of Engagement”, is available on Amazon. You can also listen to PWE & ME, Carolyn’s Podcast.