Switch off! Separate your home and work life and make technology your slave says Carolyn

Carolyn Freeman, Managing Director, Cybercology: "I now manage technology to improve what I do."

By Staff Reporter [email protected]

Published: November 25, 2021 | Updated: 26th November 2021

Carolyn Freeman is a firm believer in practising what she preaches.

As a CyberPsychologist – that’s a specialist in the psychology of technology in the workplace – she’s identified a rise in the ‘always-on, always-available’ culture.

A direct consequence of the pandemic, it’s the feeling of staff operating from home that they constantly need to be logged on to signal to managers and team members they’re working in order to prove their worth.

And because they are no longer physically present in the workplace, and able to move between meetings, there’s an increased obligation to attend every meeting online.

Carolyn said: “It’s leaving staff physically, emotionally and cognitively exhausted.

“They’ve also lost that social time to bond with colleagues, as well as the face-to-face time where brainstorming, quick problem-solving and general work mentoring occurs.

“Team members working from home are now increasingly setting their own timetables in order to juggle work and home commitments.

“But what works for one member may not work for another.

“Sending, or receiving, emails at 10pm may be liberating and empowering for some but detrimental and pressurising for others.

“While recognising all the benefits of technology, at the same time it has the potential to make staff feel overwhelmed with guilt, insecurities and feelings of isolation.”

Carolyn worked in corporate marketing for 15 years, including senior positions at Coca-Cola, Kimberly-Clark, Nestlé and Colgate Palmolive.

After six years of study she was awarded a BSc (Honours) degree in psychology with The Open University in 2018 and completed her Research Master’s in CyberPsychology at the University of Buckingham this year.

Carolyn, 49, who is married and lives in Bournemouth, has now founded her own company, Cybercology.

It helps managers identify, develop and implement new management strategies in order to effectively manage working teams.

Carolyn said: “My primary aim is to take CyberPsychology out of the world of academics, forensics and mental health and make it available, relevant and useful and implement it into the workplace and management.

“If ever there was a time to address the impact of technology on behaviour in the workplace it is now.”

As for practising as she preaches, Carolyn said: “I have consciously and actively separated out my work technology and my home technology.”

As a result:

  • Carolyn’s laptop is used for work, her tablet for entertainment (reading, movies, podcasts, music) and her phone for communication (messages and calls). She also has a 9/9.30pm cut-off for screen time each evening and switch to non-screen activities. “This means I give my brain enough time to ‘de-escalate’ from the heightened activity that comes from engaging with technology and screens,” said Carolyn.
  • No work/personal emails or social media are loaded on her phone. She normally checks emails and social media at three points during the day – first thing, around midday and the last thing before stepping away from her desk. “The remainder of the time I close down my email app and all social media tabs, reducing the opportunity to be distracted by notifications. If anything is urgent, I can still be reached by a phone call,” she said.
  • Carolyn’s phone is normally on silent during the day and turned away so that she can’t see the screen. This way she’s not distracted by notifications. If a call comes in the phone vibrates and Carolyn takes it.
  • She has a work phone number and a personal phone number. Although she’s integrated the two into one phone, not having social media or emails on her phone limits all written message communication to her laptop. This means that she’s not distracted by work during private time. Because the two numbers are integrated onto one phone, all notifications are turned off – and the work phone silenced – from 8pm to 8am. “Very little is so urgent that it can’t wait until the following day. I normally recommend that people have two different mobiles for work and home, but if they do integrate the sims onto one phone, it takes a little bit more effort to make sure work doesn’t interfere during home time,” said Carolyn.
  • Carolyn tries to have one screen-free day a week. She said: “For me, the best day to do this is a Sunday and I tend to leave my phone somewhere other than where I am. I do purposefully glance at my phone once or twice during the day, to check if I have any missed calls, but don’t unlock it if no-one has called.”
  • She tends to leave her phone in her bag when out with others or in a meeting. Carolyn said: “Research shows that the mere presence of a phone is enough to distract our minds sufficiently that we are not fully present in conversations. It also sends an underlying message that a social media post, or an email from someone else, is more important than the current conversation. So, I consciously decided to be ‘fully present’ whenever I’m with someone else. This is also true for sitting down to dinner at home. No technology is allowed at the table. “

Carolyn said she had slowly built up the above measures over time because “it takes time – and more willpower than I’d like to admit – to implement new digital strategies and habits.”

But, she added: “Coming from a place of working long hours with a screen constantly on in front of me, I now manage technology to improve what I do.

“I know it sounds cheesy, but our current social expectations can feel like we are slaves to technology.

“We need to develop strategies that forces technology to become our slave.

“Research shows that we have to have a hard-separation between our personal and work lives/technology.

“Otherwise we don’t give our body and mind the time to re-energise for the following day.

“In a nutshell, this slow eroding of mental and physical energy stores – the ’norm’ of our current work lives – is what reduces day to day productivity and leads ultimately to higher levels of stress, anxiety and burnout.”

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