Hyper connectivity – How Charged are You?

How charged are you?

In the 1970’s a senior executive received fewer than 1000 outside communications a year, but today an executive receives over 30.000 emails and other communications. The number of meetings has been driven through the roof with one study showing a staggering 300.000 hours spent in weekly executive committee meetings and according to an Atlassian study unproductive meetings alone cost US organisations over 30 billion dollars a year.[1]

So, with the advance of digitalisation, it is clear that the business world will continue to move at enormous speed. The question is whether we can really keep pace, change and adapt while remaining competitive and efficient?

What do we have to concentrate on more and what do we risk overseeing?

 

Hyper connectivity – the new buzz word?

With the daily information overflow we experience, everyone speaks about us being hyper connected and the associated risks, but what does hyper connectivity actually mean?

The term was first used by Canadian social scientists Anabel Quan-Haase and Barry Wellman. It arose from their studies of person-to-person, person-to-machine and machine-to-person communication in networked organisations and societies. The term refers to the use of multiple means of communication, such as email, instant messaging, telephone, face-to-face contact and Web 2.0 information services.[2]

Hyper connectivity in business

Hyper connectivity has changed the way we do business, which means that companies on the leading edge have the opportunity to trounce the competition.[3]

The fact that it enables many people to be connected at the same time has changed our lives forever. We are constantly connected, busy exchanging, transferring and sharing data and information. If used wisely the tools linked to hyper connectivity can support tremendous growth and process optimisation opportunities for companies:

Strategy:

Research concludes that the answer to digitalisation and hyper connectivity is “part “analogue” and part “digital.” The analogue tools they refer to are “old school”: strategy and culture. The most fundamental element for productivity is a clearly stated and effectively communicated strategy, which is linked to frontline priorities.”[4]

This means that it is vital to embrace a digital strategy across company departments and not just to react and implement blindly because the competitor does so.

It is important to consider what the business really needs, which infrastructures and purpose-built digital tools are suitable as digital supports and will not constitute a hindrance to efficient workflows, for example if they are too unwieldy, complicated or not properly understood by employees.

The beauty of hyper connectivity is the ease of data collection and sharing, which also makes it easier to identify consumer behaviour and trends.  This is of course extremely beneficial in terms of marketing and sales opportunities, as location- and interest-based targeting has become much easier now that around 80% of all interaction occurs online via mobile devices.

Culture:

As mentioned above in order to be successful a digital strategy needs to be supported and embraced by the company culture. It should be in tune with today’s modern world promoting values of disciplined and engaged interaction with concrete actions and results to avoid confusion, indecision and collaboration just for the sake of collaborating.

Here questions around values arise, it is important to understand that talking about values is not the same as living them, leading by example and demonstrating commitment through actions.

Technology can help to support the company culture by introducing communication and collaboration platforms to replace audio with video calls and community-based platforms to engage employees and avoid parallel processing during such meetings.

Communication:

Regardless of whether we are talking about internal or external communication, today’s communication overflow means it is more important than ever to define which communication tools are acceptable and when each channel (collaborative platform vs. physical meeting; email vs. phone-call or SMS, etc) is most appropriate.

Furthermore, it is imperative to set up clear guidelines/rules, do’s and don’ts regarding media use and respectful behaviour (work vs. private, tone and language) to avoid both additional information overflow, conflicts, data loss, inefficiency and addictive behaviour.

 Employee Engagement:

To keep employees engaged and performing well, companies need to target those distractions which are commonly linked to hyper connectivity, such as competitive job opportunities, globalisation, new ways of working (sometimes leading to frustration due to lack of understanding), general expectations, health and wellbeing, as well as an increased risk of stress and burn-out from not understanding the down-side of connectedness and the risks and potential addictions at play.

Many methods can be used, however a company needs to create clarity around values and expectations when dealing with hyper connectivity. This can for example involve cultivating a culture respecting the private sphere, time off and space to breathe.

This links to the communication standards mentioned above, ensuring that all employees collaborate and respect the different media usage and allow colleagues to set boundaries among themselves if a colleague is misusing a tool or disrespecting the rules.

Companies allowing mindfulness linked to digital connectedness experience higher employee engagement, as employees get time out to regenerate their resources and attention levels. By encouraging mindful downtime and “digital detoxing”, the company will achieve a better overall performance thanks to a focused and engaged workforce.

Last, but not least it is important to mention the importance of kindness and resilience when embarking on engaging collaborators during the era of over-connectedness. Methods like offering kindness and understanding of each employee’s situation and ways of dealing with hyper connectivity, offering mindful meeting practices and daily strategic thinking time help to create a better overview and make people prioritise and manage their time more effectively.

Encouraging free time, tools and activities to build up resilience, can help reduce stress and deal with periods of heavy workload differently, making employees more understanding, mindful and tolerant towards co-workers, which in turn improves long-term collaboration and efficiency.

The dark side of hyper connectivity

Where there are opportunities there are undeniably also risks and challenges.

If not dealt with correctly, hyper connectivity can have severe implications for the success of a company if it risks a lack of efficiency influencing the bottom line:

According to the Oxford Economics Leaders 2020 Study,collaborative overload in the hyper connected world is an issue. Over 4000 executives and employees found most companies lack the managerial skills, organisational culture, and technology to make collaboration pay off on a large scale.[5]

Communication overload leads to lack of concentration, confusion, errors and burn-out. Furthermore, hyper-connectivity can constitute a security risk if fake news and fraud and scam emails/phone calls are received and not dealt with properly.

Last but not least, employee disengagement is increasingly becoming an issue with a Gallup survey stating that on average 67% of employees within an organisation are partially or fully disengaged[6].

Often disengagement starts with the employee not being able to identify with the company culture or to understand the digital changes occurring. Coupled with the feeling of not being able to digest all the information provided, a lack of autonomy, belongingness and feeling of mastery of the new technologies and digital tools can lead to frustration and disconnection from work.

If such stress created by the above challenges is not dealt with in good time, it can lead to employees suffering negatively influences on their health and wellbeing.

Some symptoms of hyper connectivity
·      Mental Fatigue

·      Depression

·      Parallel processing and task execution

·      Stress and burn-out

·      Eating disorders

·      Disrespectful communication and aggression towards colleagues due to a lack of attention to personal behaviour

·      Connectivity addiction

·      Disrupted sleep and insomnia

·      FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out)

·      Lack of concentration and disrupted attention span

·      A depleted immune system

 

 The Concept of Digital Winners

Digital winners are represented by the tech-savvy companies, who have handled digital transformation to their advantage. Surprisingly what those companies have in common is that the technological change itself does not necessarily lead to profitability. Throughout the change process they have not focused entirely on digitalisation, they have however understood that the transformation was people-driven and in order to succeed the human had to be placed at the centre of attention.

The Oxford Economics Leaders 2020 Study backs up this finding by emphasising that digital leaders are distinguished by how they manage three aspects of business:

Leadership, diversity and technology:[7]

Leadership:

According to the study, digital leaders are more proficient in facilitating collaboration (62% vs. 47%) and are more responsive on meaningful decisions. They provide more feedback and categorically discourage complexity and bureaucracy. For them a top priority is to foster internal and long-term partnerships.

Diversity:

To collaborate effectively in a hyperconnected workplace, leaders need to be transparent decision makers.

Furthermore, diversity is a huge factor and goes beyond scorekeeping employee demographics, but rather should focus much more on fostering respect and communication, as well as having a positive impact on both culture (66% vs 47%) and financial performance (37% vs 29%).

Technology:

Despite the proliferation of social networking and other digital tools, the majority of companies do not really use technology to foster effective collaboration. Such companies tend to prioritise process optimisation, innovation, data analytics and customer experience rather than initiatives like collaboration, real-time decision-making and communication. This is where again digital winners set themselves apart by using collaborative platforms to determine employee aspirations and needs (60% vs 40%).

 

Conclusion

Hyper connectivity is a risky business;  the best way to prepare is to be preventive, not to take hasty decisions and follow the mass but to recognise digitalisation and the hyper connectivity that accompanies it as a chance to define and/or re-align company strategy to align with today’s measurements, to embrace and embed a digital culture taking both opportunities and challenges into consideration.

It can be an accelerator to review and modernise ways of communicating and collaborating and a tool to (re-)engage employees by building a culture of kindness and resilience in exchange for higher performance and profitability. This can be achieved by adopting the understanding of the digital leaders, by focusing on new engaging and collaborative leadership styles, whilst increasing transparency and diversity within the company. Last but not least, dealing with hyper connectivity and being “tech-savvy” is not about having the highest number, most fashionable and expensive digital tools implemented, but about using them wisely and efficiently to respond to the needs of the employees and organisation.

Would you like to have more information on how to change your hyperconnected behaviour ?

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[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/baininsights/2016/08/17/drowning-in-email-how-to-avoid-to-the-dark-side-of-hyperconnectivity/#5e7ac6ab4376[12.06.2019]

[2] Wellman, Barry (June 2001). “Physical Place and Cyber Place: The Rise of Networked Individualism”. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. [12.06.2019]

[3] Jim Carroll (2002) Opportunity awaits companies that master hyperconnectivity: https://www.jimcarroll.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/2002oct_command_and_control.pdf [19.09.2019]

[4] https://www.bain.com/insights/solving-for-the-dark-side-of-metcalfes-law/ [19.09.2019]

[5] Oxford Economics Leaders 2020 Study: The next generation executive: Getting collaboration right 2016

[6] Gallup survey 2017

[7] https://www.digitalistmag.com/future-of-work/2017/03/30/3-ways-to-fight-back-against-hyperconnectivity-overload-05001598 [19.09.2019]