In 2013, six years after the first iPhone launched, the term ‘digital detox’ was added to the Oxford dictionary. It’s a telling sign that in an increasingly digital world, being constantly connected is negatively impacting our lives.
Today the digital detox trend is growing in popularity. The idea is simple: regularly disconnect from the online world and reconnect with the world offline to restore balance to our lives.
Now businesses are realising the need for digital detoxing at work too. The facts are hard to ignore.
Our digital obsession
The latest Ofcom study revealed that we are spending twice as much time online than ten years ago.
UK adults spend on average eight hours and 41 minutes every day using media and communication devices – more time than we are asleep. While half of smartphone users admit to being "completely hooked" on their devices.
A Microsoft study revealed that since the mobile revolution the average attention span has dropped to eight seconds – less than that of a goldfish.
'Always on' culture
Our 'always on' culture consumes our attitudes towards work too. Responding to emails and messages day or night is seen as a sign of good performance. Employees fear that if you aren’t online, your job is on the line.
David Smith, co-founder of Virtual Gurus, is concerned about the impact modern working is having on our mental health.
"I actually wonder if it’s us that 'self impose' the belief that we should be always connected and available," he says. "If it is our organisations that are imposing that belief, then they need to recognise that we cannot be available 24/7 without there being consequences – burnout, anxiety, depression or worse."
Taking back control of our lives
Cisco’s Chief Technology officer, Padmasree Warrior is responsible for 20,000 employees. A few years ago she was working seven days a week. Her relentless schedule took its toll on her health and sanity.
"I was so focused on the quantity of what I was doing rather than making quality decisions," says Warrior.
She now takes a 'digital detox day' a week. "I do things that are more creative, and I’ve actually found that helps me when I get back into work to be more thoughtful."
Digital doesn’t have to mean toxic
Warrior isn’t alone in seeing the benefits of a temporary technology withdrawal.
Digital Detoxing is a company on a mission: "to create healthier, happier and more productive workplaces."
Founder Martin has been involved in the digital industries for 20 years. He has seen how toxic digital can be. But he insists it doesn’t need to be this way.
The company offer workshops that look at how to use – and how not to use – technology. Businesses can also sign up for ‘healthy workplace audits’ to establish the right workplace culture and habits.
Time To Logoff have a similar ethos. They too "love technology," but argue that "we all need a good break from it once in a while to allow our frazzled brains to recover." Their offering includes a 5:2 digital diet, designed around restoring a "life: work balance" to re-engage refresh and re-energise ourselves.
Smith argues that wellbeing programmes like this are essential for businesses. "The 21st century knowledge worker is in need of some TLC," he says.
Travel agents are seeing a rise in demand for digital detox retreats, where customers must switch off their devices on check-in. The pioneering of unlimited staff holidays by Netflix and Virgin is another positive step that affirms the value of taking time out from the pace of modern working.
Could companies start returning to analogue?
Some tips on how managers can help their staff lower the risk of digital burnout emerged at a CMI/Citrix webinar last year. Going analogue was one of them. Using paper, whiteboards and other analogue tools activate different parts of your brain that will help refresh your frame of mind.
Other suggestions include technology breaks every 25 minutes, along with running or walking clubs for employees to switch off in every sense.
So, while it’s clear that technology is very much an enabler for businesses, attitudes towards how much it enables or disables are certainly shifting.