life and work, BCS
© Anton Kornieiev

Dr Bill Mitchell OBE, Director of Policy at the British Computer Society (BCS), highlights how technology changes you, when both your life and work exist mainly through the internet

At the time of writing the country is still in lockdown, and it is Friday. I had to check that last bit as the days merge into one another and life is defined by when the next video conference call is. Constant video conferencing apparently can cause ‘Zoom Fatigue’. From my own experience, I am attending a great many more meetings, but they are virtual and often shorter, where people get to the point more quickly and that leads to quicker decisions. That also means by the end the day I do not know whether I am coming or going and hence struggling to keep track of the days.

Video conferencing

Prior to lockdown, it was often the case that many meetings were still face to face, and lots of people had to travel from different locations to get to a meeting. Meetings often included time before and after for networking. If you are going to get people to travel to a meeting, then obviously you need to have at least an hour for the meeting to justify people taking the trouble to come along in the first place. Putting all that together means a working life involving a lot of going to or from meetings, having lots of socialising as part of meetings, and long meetings that might or might not result in significant actions or decisions.

there is no end to the various ways of messaging each other and groups of people

As well as video conferencing the world has realised there is no end to the various ways of messaging each other and groups of people via the latest apps, usually at the same time we’re all on a video call with some other group of people talking about something completely different. While in some sense that means productivity is improving as far as communication is concerned, since there sure is an awful lot more of it, it’s not clear that the quality of communication is improving as we’re much more distracted than before.
Constantly jumping from one conversation to another and then back again seems to mean attention spans are getting shorter.

Whereas before lockdown people expected you to spend time laying the ground before making a point, now they stop listening if you have not got directly to the point almost immediately. Probably, as is now normal in life and work, they are distracted by several messaging apps all screaming for their attention at that same time as they are meant to be listening to you. Once your attention span gets shorter it stays shorter, so you will have a shorter attention span with your family and in your social life. This is not necessarily a good thing.

Constantly connected

Being consistently connected online with work has consequences for your family, social life, and mental wellbeing. Constantly being distracted by new stuff happening is exhausting, even if at the same time there is a lot of excitement and enjoyment in all that stuff going on. Constantly having to make decisions and achieve an ever more rapid turnaround of deliverables can drain you of the energy you need to support your loved ones, who may be going through exactly the same thing as you with their work or studies. This can be corrosive if you are not aware it is going on, so try to regularly reflect on how changes in your virtual life are changing your real life.

What is all this telling you? Well, you probably had to jump on a video call before reading to the end of this article, so you’ll never know.

What is all this telling you? Well, you probably had to jump on a video call before reading to the end of this article, so you’ll never know.

If at some point you come back to this, then here are the main points you probably can just about read through before the next meeting:

• Constantly being connected online with work and family is changing who you are, make sure those changes are being made consciously.
• Work meetings are now more likely to be shorter, more focused and result in decisions.
• Attention spans are shorter, and people feel more comfortable dropping out of an online meeting if they feel it is unproductive.
• People are better at being spontaneous about meeting online as it is so easy, when previously they would have been less keen to meet given the effort involved in arranging face to face meetings.
• You might be starting to feel like you only exist when you are online. If that is happening to you, then try and find positive ways to reengage with the physical world and think about whether this is serious enough for you to get help from others.


Contributor Profile

Director of Policy
BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT
Phone: +44 (0)1793 417 417
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