Agile & Digital / Matrix Management / Virtual Teams

Right to disconnect

Recently French courts ruled that a French Rentokil Director had the ‘right to disconnect’ and ordered Rentokil to pay a 60,000 euro fine.  However, it is also right to disconnect – research has found that when it comes to solving complex problems, we are more innovative and effective if we are ‘intermittently on’ versus ‘always on’.

Whether it’s the Silicon Valley tech-giants sending their children to screen-free Wardorf-Steiner schools in droves, or French workers suing their bosses, I think we all have the sense that being slaves to our devices and the addictive pings that emanate from them is not good for our deep thinking.  We need to actively give ourselves space for mulling, pondering and ultimately coming up with a creative rather than run-of-the-mill idea. It is easy to fall into the trap of “just got to get through this workload as fast as possible… react…respond…get it done.”

Innovation and creativity is what is ultimately going to help us win in the digital world. As the COO at Alibaba (where turnover has increased from $8.4 billion in 2014 to $39.9 billion in 2018) argues, “Digital leaders no longer manage; rather, they enable workers to innovate… machine-learning algorithms take on much of the burden of incremental improvement by automatically making adjustments that increase systemwide efficiency. Thus, leaders’ most important job is to cultivate creativity. Their mandate is to increase the success rate of innovation rather than improve the efficiency of the operation.”

Yet executives now receive over 50,000 communications per year (vs. 25,000 in the previous decade), according to analysis by Bain & Company. So it has to be a conscious effort on our part not to get sucked immediately into another round of emails or chat messages.

In terms of allowing work to bleed into our home lives, research has found that unsurprisingly the manager’s behaviour sets the tone, as shown by the research below:

Although you may be sending out emails on a Sunday to help you get ahead with your week – without expecting your direct reports to respond right away – the research shows that they do in fact feel obliged to reply.  This is just as true for late-night emails during the week and the messages sent at 3am when you can’t get to sleep.  Unfortunately this doesn’t ultimately help with productivity – Gallup has found that US workers who spend longer emailing outside of work hours experience substantially more stress than those that do it less.   As Stanford professor, Dr Pfeffer explains, “Long work hours produce fatigue and boredom, which lead to making more mistakes ….”

So take a moment to think about what you can do to strategically disconnect this week.  Which chunk of time can you ring-fence to think through a creative response to a sticky challenge? What practical things can you do to set the culture for your team (e.g. not send a flurry of emails on a Sunday evening, or explicitly set out expectations for when you expect a response)?


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