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Technology & The Rise of the Fauxmergency

Director of Technology at HNI

technology_emergency1Some of us can remember a time when work ended at 5 PM and you could completely disconnect after a long day (or week) at the office.  For many, those days are long gone. 

It’s hard to even imagine there was time when smartphones didn’t exist.  Technology has provided great opportunities and flexibility in the workplace -- for both employees and employers.   Having the freedom to work from anywhere at any time is empowering, and in response, many companies have provided flexible options for their workforce. 

The dark side of technology

So what could be wrong with all that flexibility and accessibility?  Ideally it should be a win-win, but sometimes the balance can be thrown off (in either direction). 

In some cases, our “always on” mentality can create a false sense of urgency (a fauxmergency) that leads businesses to demand more time from their workers off hours and off site. 

In the old days, emergency meant “fire” or “ambulance” or some other situation that invoked images of flashing red lights and sirens.  That definition has changed dramatically as the world has become 24/7.  But the reality is that very few things are actually urgent.  There is a huge difference between “wanting” and “needing”.

Defining “urgent” in a business setting

Urgency in business is critical. It helps push things forward and sets timelines. It creates excitement and passion toward tasks and project. 

But the false kind of urgency I speak of here is of a different sort.  It’s the made up kind – that team members, customers, or even the little voice inside our head imposes on us.  Kind of like yelling “I need ice cream now!” and forcing the ice cream parlor to open at 3AM for you.  When in fact, there is no such thing as an ice cream emergency. (At least the last time I checked.)

The cost of this false urgency is lower employee morale, high turnover, and a lack of ability to focus on the projects that matter most to the business.

The litmus test for what’s really urgent

In my role as Director of IT at HNI, I try to help our teams find a balance and use technology to liberate the way they work… not become a ball and chain.

The questions I encourage people to ask when faced with an “urgent” request are:  

  • Would the business suffer if the problem or question is not resolved before the next business day?  If so, how much money/efficiency would be lost for the organization?
  • Will the problem get MUCH worse if it’s not fixed now?
  • Does this issue affect a large number of people?
  • What would happen if the issue did NOT get fixed… ever? (Surprisingly, often the answer is not much.)

The challenge we face

This is a problem that’s not going away any time soon.  The challenge for all of us – as individuals and as organizations – is using technology to our advantage rather than a way to let the workday become an all-consuming, 24/7 experience. 

Success comes from focusing on what’s really important, rather than constantly putting out fires (real or artificial). 


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