The Digital Detox: Designing Offices with Tech-Free Zones

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We read an article on Workplace Insight this week about the need for employees to truly embrace the concept of a digital detox when they go on holiday.

The aforementioned article got the team at CMIW talking about the ‘always on’ culture that is so rapidly becoming the norm in the workplace. Due to the proliferation of technology, such as smart phones and tablets, the rise of communications platforms, including social media and video calling, the increasing move towards flexible working patterns, and the growth in international business means we feel the need to stay constantly connected.

There’s no doubt that most of us can admit, to some degree, feeling addicted to technology and the desire for a digital detox every now and then. The average amount of times a person checks their phone is over 2,500 times a day (Dscout), spending just over 4 hours per day on their mobile device. Couple this with the continued and increasing reliance on email as a primary business communication channel and the perceived need to reply to emails or other digital communications immediately, and you can see the huge impact technology is having on how we communicate on a day-to-day basis. But how good is this for our health and well-being? And how productive does such technology really make us in our daily working lives?

We Need to Provide More Tech-Free Spaces within the Workplace

The team at CMIW began talking about how this phenomenon relates to office design and what can be done to facilitate this growing desire or need for a digital detox, without having a negative impact on the workplace and employee productivity. We believe that there will be an increasing requirement for tech-free zones within the office. Yes, we wholeheartedly agree that technology is essential for effective business communications and any newly designed or refurbished office spaces should carefully consider the integration and use of technology at the very early stages of the design process. However, we also believe that the workplace would benefit from the provision of tech-free zones. Spaces dedicated to contemplation and learning, such as places of worship or libraries, have always asked visitors to refrain from using their mobile and we are seeing this culture more commonly in other public places and on public transport, where certain areas are dedicated quiet zones with the use of mobile phones being prohibited. We believe technology free spaces will fastly become a feature or a requirement in the workplace too.

What Are the Benefits of a Workplace Digital Detox?

The benefits of encouraging a digital detox and providing tech-free zones within the workplace will make a positive impact on employee well-being by enabling employees the space and freedom to take a break from their smartphones, tablets and laptops and focus on other activities, or simply take a break to refresh and recharge. A workplace digital detox will also enable employees to use other ways of communicating in order to achieve desired results; far too many emails are sent each working day, with many employees preferring or choosing to email their colleagues rather than speaking to them face-to-face, however, face-to-face communication remains a far more effective method of improving employee collaboration and achieving results faster.

Company Culture and Digital Strategy Are Key

The successful implementation of tech-free zones within the workplace is fundamentally linked to an organisation’s culture. Enabling all employees to feel empowered to take control of when they are ‘online’, to change the mindset to one that acknowledges that you do not have to respond to digital communications in real time and to encourage people to engage in more face-to-face communications are all essential cultural, behavioural and mindset changes that must be adopted throughout an entire organisation in order for a true digital detox and employee well-being culture to exist.

Likewise, the digital strategy within an organisation needs to cater for enabling employees to regularly practice their digital detox. Ironically, this actually means providing employees with the right, easy to use technology to facilitate and encourage connectivity from anywhere. The key here is empowerment and trust – two key factors that are so closely associated with smart working practices.

Any forward thinking organisation wishing to attract and retain first class talent, especially younger generations such as generation Z, must seriously consider their employee well-being, digital and smart working strategies if they wish to thrive in the future, where the daily digital detox may well become a force of habit.


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