August 2019

There’s no doubt technology has transformed the way associations – and everyone else – conduct business. For the most part, that’s a good thing.

Email allows us to connect instantly with members and supporters while saving postage and trees. Research can be completed with the click of a mouse instead of a trip to the library.

With video and phone conferencing, boards and committees can conduct business without the expense of time and money to meet in person. When face-to-face events do happen, conference apps enable attendees to find one another and organizers to make last-minute program changes.

Connectivity makes it possible for employees to work from anywhere. Social media present a wealth of opportunities for marketing, member engagement, event promotion and more. Online analytics give us feedback at our fingertips on how well our messaging is working – or isn’t.

As with all good things, however, too much digital has its downside.

We’ve all been there: plugging away at a project on deadline when that email or text comes in demanding immediate attention and distracting us from the work at hand. If we’re lucky, we’ll get only one such interruption in the course of a day. Most of us aren’t so lucky.

In a 2018 article on Deloitte.com, authors Connor Joyce, Jen Fisher, Jim Guszcza and Susan K. Hogan cite a 2008 study that found workers who are frequently interrupted tend to compensate by working faster – leaving them open to more mistakes and fewer well-thought-out decisions. In addition, the more demands we have on our time, the less able we are to prioritize them.

Digital meetings can also be a productivity killer, according to the Deloitte article’s authors. “The very ease with which people can be invited to and accept these meetings … can translate into a disadvantage,” they write. “Meeting organizers often choose to err on the side of inclusion, minimizing the risk of leaving someone out, and the average worker often chooses to attend it for fear of missing out on something important. The all-too-common net result is a day packed with back-to-back meetings, during which much is said, less retained, and even less achieved.”

Perhaps the most insidious digital demon is the expectation – not always imposed from above – that we be always “on,” plugged into the office even when we’re not present. There are several reasons for this:

  • Association work often requires us to be on after hours. Members volunteer their time and must work around their own day jobs. Conference calls, meetings and other association business often happen in the evenings and on weekends.
  • Leaders who are uncomfortable leaving work at the office may assume their staff shares that mindset. Those who don’t may feel the unspoken pressure to stay plugged in during evenings, weekends or even vacations.
  • We’ve internalized the idea that being always on is a sign of power, importance and status. Or we’re afraid to let go because our colleagues might discover they can get on without us.

So what’s an association leader to do?

Technology isn’t going anywhere, and we don’t want it to. Just as our bodies need food to survive, our organizations need tech. The answer is to treat technology the way we treat food and put ourselves and our organizations on a healthy digital “diet.”

Dr. Joanne Cantor, author of “Conquer CyberOverload,” has some suggestions:

  • Limit multitasking. “Do one thing at a time,” she says in a businessnewsdaily.com article. “You’ll find you actually save time.”
  • Take control of interruptions. Not everything needs your immediate attention. Be like Mom: Is anyone bleeding? No? Then it can wait. Cantor acknowledges that this is a tough one to master. Try it in small doses at first.
  • Resist the urge to be connected to work 24/7. The Deloitte article cites an American Psychological Association study that found “53 percent of Americans work over the weekend, 52 percent work outside designated work hours, and 54 percent work even when sick.” That’s more than half of us – we can’t all be that “important”! When you’re off, be off. Play on the internet all you want; just stay out of the office email.

These recommendations aren’t just for association leaders; it’s important to make them part of the office culture. Encourage your staff to focus on single projects, master their interruptions and enjoy their off-duty time free of workplace worries.

Bottom line, says Cantor: ““You own your gadgets. They don’t own you.”