When we work remotely, technology is our lifeline. You’d think we’d be grateful for the ability to see each other when we’re not in the same office, or send our written messages around the world at the speed of light. Instead we tell anyone who’ll listen that the volume of email is interfering with our work. Most of us have only been using Zoom for three or four months, and we’re already complaining about “Zoom Fatigue.”
Why does the technology that makes our jobs possible also seem to make us miserable?
There are a couple of reasons, starting with the obvious: We’re using all this technology to do our jobs, and who doesn’t complain about their job? As my father used to tell me when I complained about my boss, “That’s why they call it work. It isn’t supposed to be fun.”
Still, there are valid reasons to be dissatisfied with technology, or at least the way we use it.
New technology has unintended consequences.
Every time a new tool is invented to solve one problem, it tends to uncover a new one. I am old enough to remember when email was going to be the savior of the workplace. The ease of writing email soon meant everyone could handle their own correspondence. But the very ease and low cost of this amazing tool actually added to our work. Busy managers and sales people no longer had assistants or admins to help with managing communication flow. As a result, we got to do our job PLUS handle all the phone calls, letters and other messages that someone else handled back when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Because nobody had to find a piece of paper, write on it, put it in an envelope and send it, we stopped being so picky about when and how we communicated, the volume of communication we handle each day has exploded.
When something hasn’t been done before, you don’t know what the side-effects are.
One reason we get so tired when we are on group video chats is that our eyes actually work much harder. Your eyeballs are constantly bombarded by blue-spectrum light and trying to take in all the pictures and thumbnail-sized webcam pictures means we’re actually putting far more strain on our eyes than anyone anticipated. We had no way of knowing this, because unlike pharmaceuticals, which need to be tested for side effects, we are our own lab rats in the business world. We’re basically experimenting on ourselves.
We learn to use technology enough to make it function, but not enough to work efficiently.
The old adage in software development is that 80% of people use only 20% of the features of any technology. Your email platform is a prime example. You can set your email to fetch new messages at specific intervals (say every half hour). Have you tried that? Odds are you haven’t, so you get bombarded by a constant flow of messages that interrupts your other work. Are you filtering messages by importance or topic so that you can be intentional about which messages you read and which you don’t? More likely you’re taking each message as it comes, meaning you are spending a lot of time dealing with spam, messages you don’t care about, and every person in your email group thanking you for the message you sent earlier.
We often aren’t smart about which tool we use for which job.
Vibrant discussions that lead to decisions usually require careful listening, give and take, and group energy. Those are hard to come by when your’e on the 18th message in an email thread. We often confuse the easiest tool to perform a function with the best tool for the task. Email isn’t the problem. You’re trying to perform a collaborative task with an asynchronous tool. Probably the wrong tool for that task. Pick up the phone or get on a webcam call.
Work is hard. Technology can be stressful. Be mindful of what you’re using and why. You might make life easier for yourself.
How well does your team utilize your existing technology. This free assessment can tell you where you stand and give you some ideas about where you need to go.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. You can pre-order Kevin and Wayne’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammate, now.