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Turning off your technology

We are a hyper-connected society.

It’s a wonderful time to be alive, knowing with the push of a button, we can ‘chat’ with someone on the other side of the world at minimal cost.

All it takes is the right piece of equipment and an Internet connection.

But it means we’re all working at different times. We’re located in different time zones or our ability to telecommute and work from anywhere means we sometimes have to connect whenever someone else bloody well feels like it.

And it means we can be out for dinner with our friends and loved ones and — BING! — our smartphones ring out with a notification, letting us know someone somewhere needs us for something.

It can be maddening for the people around us.

We look at it, though, as our careers — and lives — depend upon answering that text, email or Tweet.

Some companies are starting to buck that trend. They’re recognizing that we need our time to relax, refresh and recharge.

Daimler, the German automaker, doesn’t want its employees on call, 24-7. In a New York Times story on disconnecting, a Daimler rep reveals the company will have all incoming email automatically deleted during its employees’ vacations.

The sender gets an Out of Office email directing him to a temporary contact.

“Switching off” after work is important, “even if you are on a business trip,” said Sabrina Schrimpf, a Daimler spokeswoman.

Tuning out is important, and it becomes more so for telecommuters, flex workers and remote workers. We are always ‘on’ and studies show our ability to be connected is making us work more.

In the NY Times story, Leslie A. Perlow, a professor of leadership at Harvard Business School and author of Sleeping With Your Smartphone, says companies can improve their bottom line by encouraging employees to disconnect at times.

“Being constantly on actually undermines productivity,” she said.

But let’s face it. Companies like Daimler are rarer than we want them to be. Most companies, fueled by our always-hovering fears of job security in an economically challenged world, place 24-7 demands on employees to produce.

Thus, we can become slaves to our technology.

And it becomes incumbent upon the workers and the telecommuters to turn ourselves off, to ignore that BING on our smartphones and to reconnect not just with our friends and family, but also with ourselves.

But we also require an understanding from senior management that it isn’t about getting more from us.

It’s about getting the best of us.

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Ode to a cubicle

(WARNING: This isn’t really an ode. Odes rhyme and poetry is not my strong suit.)

When I first started my career in writing, I had an office.

Four walls. A desk. A phone. And a door that closed.

I needed no duct tape on the floor to indicate where walls would one day be (hellooooo, Les Nesman).

And when I moved to a new city and a new job, I got my first cubicle.

Well, it still wasn’t a cubicle. It was a desk in a common area of desks. We sat next to each other at our desks in our corner of a building that was once a warehouse and never should have been a newspaper office.

We jawed over story ideas, had little quiet time to write, and saw entirely too much of each other.

Fast forward to another city, another job, another industry.

And cubicles.

Cubicle City

We were all connected – and yet disconnected – by a maze of half walls, carpeted with a strange, felt-like material and bordered with metal.

We sat back to back with our cubicle mates and popped our heads up to ask the guy next to us a question.

Others yelled across the room to catch someone’s attention.

Still others alleviated the monotony of cubicle life by shooting Nerf guns around the free space.

And it was hell.

Now as I write for, my cubicle is my dining room table.

My break room is my couch.

My lunch time is spent at the park with my dog.

Lunch Break

With telecommuting, I have broken free from Cubicle Hell.

I have broken the shackles of office drudgery and embraced a life of freedom.

And with conference calls and web conferences, I am no less connected to my work mates than I was when were separated by the awfulness of cubicles.

In truth, I’d say we’re better connected.

We use our technologies to communicate and have put a system of checks and balances in place to ensure the work is being done.

We have deadlines and performance reports to file.

And the results are evident.

Happy employee, happy employer.

Let’s chat! Have your broken free from your cubicle and embraced telecommuting?

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