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Transcript: The perils of being always connected

The perils of being always connected


Karl Moore: This is Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, Talking Management for The Globe and Mail. Today, I'm delighted to speak to JoAnne Yates, who is a senior professor at MIT at the Sloan School, and deputy dean at the Sloan school as well.

Good afternoon, JoAnne.

JoAnne Yates: Good afternoon.

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KM: It seems when you get on a plane, like when we flew down here to San Antonio, that as soon as the plane lands everybody is on their BlackBerry or on their Apple. In executive programs they are continuously out there, even students in the classroom seem to be hyper-connected. What implications does that have for our style of management and do we need to change somehow?

JY: ...In this age of ubiquitous connectivity, we all have to be very aware of the influence it has on us. I think all of us have caught ourselves in some situations where we know we should not be looking at our iPhone or BlackBerry or whatever, peeking at it because we know there is something coming in that we are waiting for or just because we thought we felt it buzz and we think that we need to know what that is.

So the desire to keep checking it and to be part of that connected world is a very strong desire, but it has huge implications for how people live their lives: how their work lives intersect with their personal lives and the extent to which they are able to get away from that at all. Can you break away, take a vacation from it? It's harder and harder to take a real vacation because you are always connected.

So I think it is very important for people as managers to think about, "Okay, how do I want my team to be using this technology" and for individuals who are on this connected technology to think about, "How do I want to be part of this world?" I think if you think about what typically happens when people first got their iPhones or BlackBerrys, or whatever, their first device like that was, they saw it as a huge advantage. Now, I can leave work and go and watch my child play soccer and still be within reach at my office. So that actually seemed to them like an advantage initially.

But we also interviewed their families and their spouses and they felt that it was really interfering in an occasionally very serious way with their home lives. We also monitored these people and we asked them to save 48 hours of messages on their device and then walk through it with us and say, "Where were you when you received this? Did you respond to it? Who was it from? What kind of person, and etc."

We learned some very amusing things such as that many of these individuals, who had learned that their spouses considered it a no-no to be operating and watching it at home, would go into the bathroom, close the door, and sit there and do their emailing. So that was one of the most frequent responses when we asked people where they were when they received it: they just had to hide from the family.

When we tried to dissect that and deconstruct it what we found was this spiral of expectations. They would first get them [the emails]then the first person would start making himself available at all kinds of hours and then people would expect him to be available. He told us that, now, when he didn't respond within 10 minutes, people would send him a message and say, "Are you okay? What's wrong?"

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So the expectation got created and so you train people how to treat you, you create expectations by being available at certain times and not being available at other times.

KM: This has been Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, Talking Management for the Globe and Mail.

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