On a fall afternoon, I sit at my desk, navigating through a number of open tabs on my laptop’s Internet browser. My earbuds are nudged tightly in place, while my smartphone rests within inches of the wrist that sports an activity tracker. This isn't part of a cruel multi-tasking challenge. It's my chosen state of focus, a personal Zen.
With these tools in front of me, my productivity seems unlimited, as just a few clicks can tap into an all-knowing Interweb of information. I push back my chair, examine the cliché scene, and recognize how undeniably “millennial” I am.
Virtually every part of my life is connected to this high-tech web that constantly acquires, measures and learns about the world around it. Not remembering a life without this, I inherently find connectivity to be a positive thing. But with an overwhelming amount of information at the tips of my fingers, am I simply too distracted to focus on any given task? Is connectivity helping or hindering productivity?
Notifications: distractions we love to hate
Twitter. Instagram. Email. News. Snapchat. iMessage. Facebook. As millennials, we have all grown accustomed to the gentle buzz of our smartphones delivering constant notifications that are frequently (and usually) irrelevant. Admittedly these notifications are a nuisance, but we still sift through them in case a nugget of important information happens to appear. At work, a flood of emails infiltrate our inboxes and we feel the urge to constantly check them, even when we are engrossed in important tasks. Why? Heightened connectivity sets a precedent that we are always “in the know.” There is no pity for someone who falls behind due to lack of information. Therefore, in an attempt to stay up-to-date with the world around us, we fall victim to irrelevant distractions. This aspect of connectivity is a real threat to maintaining focus and being productive in the workplace.
Flexibility: decide how you work best
Despite its potential distractions, connectivity allows for flexibility in the way that we work as individuals and in teams. Gone are the days of being tethered to an assigned cubicle where you are destined to sit from 8 to 5. Now, wireless capabilities and real-time virtual file sharing make any place an acceptable work space. As I have developed my preferred work style over the past few years, the ability to stay connected virtually anywhere has given me the opportunity to explore and assess which situations enhance my productivity the most. As millennials, we appreciate employers that recognize differences in work styles and provide the technology to keep us connected in many environments around the clock. The ability to get the same business done from a cubicle, home office, or coffee shop is a significant engine for productivity in the workplace.
A fine line: boundaries between work and home
There is a dark side to workspace flexibility, however. The elimination of time and space boundaries often blurs the fine line between business and personal life. Many people continue to compulsively stay connected to their work life simply because they can. Being able to access co-workers and clients outside of the office can be a huge asset. However, it may also encroach on personal time, sometimes resulting in unbalanced work-home life. This lack of balance can be counterproductive; blending roles can lead to the deterioration of professional efficiency. For this reason, it is easy to see how the flexibility that comes from connectivity can be unfavorable.
Moving forward: separating the strengths from the weaknesses
We can work around these weaknesses by striving to separate personal and work lives. This could be as simple as turning off irrelevant banner notifications on your phone, or taking a “connection free” hour every morning to focus on productive work without the distractions of email, calls, or texts. When working outside of the office, designate a time and place aside from normal home activities to personally distinguish between your role as a professional and your role as a social human being.
The strengths of connectivity certainly outweigh the costs, so we must work to take advantage of them. Use collaborative tech tools when you can, especially cloud technology that provides seamless information-sharing capabilities. Find work environments where you can be productive in teams and individually. Take advantage of the ability to reach out to consumers in the virtual space, via social media and digital analytics.
As we move into the frontier of a newly connected world, millenials will be either the most productive generation the work force has seen, or the most distracted. Which do you think it will be?