One of the definitions for radio silence is a period during which one hears nothing from a normally communicative person or group.
When is the last time that you went 24 hours or more without checking and/or responding to your email, phone, social media accounts, etc.? Well, you may not be alone. According to a Huffington Post article, 84 percent of respondents from a Time magazine poll said that they could not go a single day without their cellphones. Does this mean that we are more connected and efficient than ever before? Maybe. Maybe not. Let’s take a look.
The High Demands of Communication in the Workplace
This week I was teaching an Essential Skills of Communicating course. As part of this course, we discuss methods of communication and individual preferences. Interestingly enough, almost 80% of the class participants indicate that email is their preferred method of communication. As a follow up question, I asked the participants to tell me about any email response time expectations that exist in their environment. The consensus of the group is that emails and phone calls need to be returned in 24-48 hours. Text messages and instant messages need to be responded to almost immediately per the group’s feedback. When you add meeting time into this equation, it is a miracle that we ever accomplish any specific tasks or assignments.
I then went on to ask the group if they check and respond to emails while on vacation. About 30% of the participants admitted to doing that.
In addition to the conversations in the classroom this week, I also regularly observe business leaders and professionals not paying attention in meetings or getting interrupted during a conversation by an incoming email, text, or phone call. On most days, it seems as though it can be a challenge to get 5 minutes of uninterrupted time with someone.
When is Radio Silence Appropriate?
Fortunately for me, I have the opportunity to force myself to go without being connected when I am at my remote cabin. Ironically, I don’t find it oppressive or challenging in anyway. In fact, I generally find it refreshing and the time away allows me to think about and focus on things without the distractions of connectivity. The peace and quiet of nature this weekend helped bring some clarity to the question, when is radio silence appropriate in the workplace? Here are my thoughts. What do you think?
- During vacations. Employees should strive to disconnect completely from workplace communications while on vacation. Isn’t that the reason we take vacations? To recharge and re-invigorate? Can we be effective at that when we are still working?
- During exercise. For many of us, exercise is what allows us to efficiently manage stress and makes us tolerable to be around. Take that 30-60 minutes and use it to just focus on your body, mind, and spirit.
- During meetings. Let’s be honest. If you are looking at your phone or computer when you are in a meeting, it sends the message to the other parties that they or the topic at hand is less important than whatever is on your phone–whether it truly is or not.
Tips on How to Disconnect
For some of us, even the thought of disconnecting for just 24 hours can lead to an anxiety attack. Here are a few tips on how you can get started with creating some healthy radio silence:
- Set clear expectations regarding communication when on vacation. If you are leaving on vacation, let your team members know that you will not be responding to work-related communications until you return. Provide a back up that they can reach in case of an emergency.
- Schedule as much time as possible throughout the day that doesn’t include technology. This could mean having more face-to-face interactions with people. Meet a friend for coffee instead of texting each other. Walk over to a co-workers office and brainstorm some solutions to a challenge that you are faced with at the office.
- Put your phone and computer away when in meetings. Try staying focused and giving your undivided attention to the people you are meeting with for just one week. I suspect you will get so much positive feedback that you will want to keep doing it!
- Find your remote cabin. This doesn’t really have to be a cabin. You just need a place or time that you can tune everything out for a little while. The amount of time needed will be different for each person. Some of us might need to allot a certain amount of time each day in order to remain sane where others may be fine with a day or two per month.
- And finally the obvious one, just turn off your devices and walk away. Go spend time with your family, friends, pets, or nature. You will be better for it!