Cultural & Society Norms

Changing social engagements and expectations

Most people get a little frustrated when someone checks their phone in the middle of a conversation. But, most of us do it… on a regular basis.

It never used to be socially acceptable to pick something up and start reading it while talking to another. Not many people would pick up a newspaper or a book and start reading it in the middle of a conversation. Yet, we regularly do this with our mobile. It’s become normal.

As a society, we’ve slipped seamlessly into some previously unacceptable social habits with our tech and media usage – especially when others are present. As individuals, workers, families and as a culture, we need to address, challenge and reshift these norms to ones that are more focussed on those physically present with us, rather than those virtually present in another part of the world. 

The interesting phenomenon we are now facing hinges on how much less time we spend building and maintaining the stronger and deeper relationships we have with physical others (which tend to be more enduring and grounding), in contrast to the time spent and reliance we are placing on the shallower and more shifting nature of online relationships. That is not to say there is no value in online relationships, but rather that our cognitive and emotional ‘presence’ has dramatically shifted over the past two decades without us really taking stock of what that means individually and collectively.  

We are doing both ourselves and others a disservice by not being fully present with others. 

A few hints and tips for work: 

  • Don’t take your phone with you into a meeting – unless you are waiting for a call, there is rarely anything so important that it can’t wait until the meeting is finished
  • Keep your phone out of sight while working – having your phone in view while working increases the chance of you randomly checking your phone for messages and notifications, causing you unnecessary distractions and attention shifts

A few hints and tips for home: 

  • Switch your work phone off when you get home
  • Don’t load work emails and work-related apps onto your personal phone
  • Set yourself hours in the day when you can say, ‘I’m no longer working’ – try to stick to it 
  • Keep your phone in your bag or pocket while out with a friend – better yet, leave it at home
  • Negotiate with your family a set of ‘house rules’ and limitations on what and when tech is used in the home
  • Education yourself and your family on why sleep is such a necessary part of current and future mental wellness (Matthew Walkers book on ‘Why We Sleep’ is a good start)
  • Try switching off all technology at least 1-2 hours before bed – giving your brain time to ‘de-escalate’ from the whirlwind that work and life can create.
  • If you can, use separate devices for home and work tasks – giving your brain the cues that you are ‘transitioning’ out of work and into home life and visa versa.

Your psychology and automated processing systems need a daily and weekly rhythm that allows you to regulate your physical, emotional and cognitive energy levels. 

A few hints and tips for managers: 

  • Negotiate digital working practices with your staff and teams.
  • Let people manage their own digital engagement levels after working hours, but make it clear that there is no expectation around communication response times after working hours
  • Set a precedent that if one person sends an email or message to a project platform after work hours, it doesn’t mean that everyone is expected to also do so.