Disconnecting from the always on culture with Harvard and the BCG

What key insights can we take out of consultants that managed to transition to better work/life balance?
Category : Management
Written by: Alexander Jones
Published: 1 / 09 / 2021
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

I have a few questions for you:

Does too much availability interfere with your main objectives (professional or personal)?

How is disconnecting from work perceived in your environment, your company?

Take a moment to think about this before going on if you like, the rest of the article will be waiting for you.

So, after reading the “Making time off predictable – and required” article by the Harvard business review (link to the full article), I thought to myself that I needed to go a bit further and get some of my own feedback about these topics.

The article was written in 2009 and deals with a particular work culture. That’s why I’m curious to know what it’s like in 2021 for you. From this article, themes emerge that range from digital disconnection to work performance, asynchronous communication and fulfilment at work.

There’s a link at the end of the article if you’re up to discussing all this 🙂

The study’s origin

Here’s some context:

This article presents the results of an experiment led by Professors Leslie Perlow and Jessica Porter of Harvard Business School (no less) with consultants from the BCG aka Boston Consulting Group (a world-leading management consulting firm, no less).

The strange idea they came up with was to organise time periods each week during which the consultants would not answer their phones or emails.

So, at the start of a project with a client, each team member was given a day or evening when he or she would be unavailable.

Unbelievable, right?

The BCG participated in this experiment because they were questioning their work methods during the economic crisis of the late 2000s.

This approach was considered counter-intuitive at the time: why implement predictable time-off if you want to improve the effectiveness of your consultants after a crisis?

What are the effects of this “digital disconnection” ?

  • The first test client who agreed to face consultants with these strange practices was simply receptive. In other words, the client did not expect 24/7 availability as the consultants imagined. All they had to do was to be organised.
  • 100% of the consultants who took part in the experiment wanted to try again for their next project. 76% of those who were not part of the study wanted to try again.
  • In addition to a better work/life balance, which was the expected outcome, the participants experienced more open communication, a higher level of learning and delivered a better end product to the client.
  • Demonstrative involvement of management and leaders is necessary. Demonstrative meaning: “characterized by or given to open exhibition or expression of one’s emotions, attitudes, etc.”. For example, one of the partners in the firm explicitly said in a meeting that his job was not the number one priority in his life and that he didn’t want to be embarrassed to say so. This helped some of the consultants to understand that they would not be blamed for prioritising their family, their health or for taking part in the study.

Returning to the point about more open communication, participants reported an increase in the level of trust and respect between them. Their work environment became more caring. Colleagues got to know each other better and dared to talk about their personal issues.It should be noted here that a trait of successful teams is psychological safety (Google says so).

summary of the results of the experiment

Let’s continue with internal communication and the methods that resulted from these new practices.

Without this being a prerequisite of the experiment, the team set up a daily logbook.This meant that everyone was up to date on the whole project, in a timely way, without interfering with their individual work and even when returning from an absence (the wonders of asynchronous communication :D). With some organisation, it seems possible to reap the benefits of less immediacy without the occasional disadvantages.

The client particularly appreciated this level of knowledge of the entire project by all the consultants.

In a nutshell, since this study, the consultants are less stressed, participate in a rational questioning of their work practices and deliver better results to their clients.

Their work/life balance is better, without this being seen as negative by their team or management and “without sacrificing anything on the client side”.

What about you?

What is your experience (good or bad) with “switching off” and related working methods?

Tell me all about it by messaging me on linkedin 🙂 whether you have struggles or successes with all this, I’m interested, let’s talk.

PS: If you want to see a summary of our references for this article or the rest of what we say on our website: here’s the link.