THE BLOG

Out Of Office, But Not Out Of Touch

25/07/2017 10:41
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It's August. The captains of industry are sailing away, heading to Tuscany, the Med or other spots with an all-inclusive pool bar for a well-deserved break.

But will it actually be a holiday?

Back in the day, it was a real occasion when the boss packed up. It was almost a holiday in itself. Workers kicked back, safe in the knowledge they'd be left alone for two entire weeks. For CEOs in particular, it was a real chance to focus on family and friends.

But these days, it's rare to see an out-of-office pop up. It's seen as a sign of weakness, a lack of commitment. How dare you enjoy a week chilling when Gary from finance has a question about a missing invoice?

Things look like they are changing a bit, but the macho manager, veins coursing with KPIs and a stern shot of discipline is still the norm. They feel the need to check in every day, just in case the office burned down or Gary didn't figure out what to do with that invoice. Frankly, it's bad for them and just as bad for the team they've left behind.

I'm just as bad, though. Worse, maybe. I've just returned from a week-long cruise around the Mediterranean. It was sunny. It was nice. I spent €300 on internet access. That wasn't so nice.

While topping up my tan, I could be found running across the length and breadth of the boat, scouring for bigger decks, wifi sweet spots to make 'urgent' calls. I found myself sending apologies to board members even if I was a few moments late replying to their emails.

It seems a bit mad. I'm aware of that. Surely everyone can survive without me for a week, and surely I deserve a chance to just shut down and enjoy a holiday? And, perhaps the biggest point here: a good manager should be content in their abilities, implicitly trusting of their employees.

But then again... is it really that bad? Kids crave connectivity. They're plugged in wherever they are, sharing that perfect sunset, that surreptitious selfie in some ancient burial ground. They won't mind if you're firing off some emails because they're too busy keeping up their Snapchat Streaks. This 24/7 culture grew initially for entertainment, but its work benefits are undeniable.

And a little email can solve massive issues. A simply typed yes or no can speed things up in the office. You can stop little problems becoming massive ones that you have to face on your return.

But you've also got to find some balance. My lasting memory of France's beautiful beaches back when I was in politics isn't building sandcastles - it's dealing with terrorism legislation and discussing how long a terror suspect can be detained. While building sandcastles.

I also found myself stuck up a ski lift, wind and snow ravaging one ear and the media the other, trying to delicately handle Charles Kennedy's resignation from the Lib Dems.

Work isn't life. It's a massive part of life, but yes, you have to know when to say no. But, at the same time, you've got be aware that certain things might not function without you. So follow your intuition, prioritise your interactions while away and try and relax while you're at it.

Oh and I should confess that I typed this up sitting by the pool on my last day of holidays!

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