Battling digital windmills in the cloud?

Image: Jim Woodward- Nutt CC-BY-SA 2.0 

I hadn’t really thought of a connection between Don Quixote and our ever increasing digitally connected world until earlier this week when I attended a guest #teplsig research seminar from Dr Caroline Roth Ebner, entitled ‘Office Work in the Digital Age’. You can find out more and access the slides here.

The title was actually a bit misleading.  What Caroline has been researching are the new competencies required for effective work with what she has termed “dig-com” workers, people working in the digital communications industry.  As Caroline’s talk unfolded there were many parallels with education, and I’m sure many other industries.

The increasing virtualisation of work, flexible and mobile work, the blurring of boundaries between professional and private life is all to common. So not surprisingly the new competencies coming through from Caroline’s work include digital literacy. What has also emerged from her research is that CPD and training opportunities are still predominately focused on technical capabilities and not the actually more important digital literacy skills the how to as opposed to why/where to – as I tweeted during the seminar

One of the methods Caroline has been using is to get her research subjects to visualise their ways technology impacts on their working lives.  Many of her subjects talked about strategies for managing communications; for example using email rules and folders.  Get ready for the Don Quixote bit. The photo in the tweet below shows how one of her subjects (a senior manager) visualised their methods (futile battle?)  for managing effective communications.  Email rules could be seen as part of their lance!

As the seminar unfolded I was obviously drawn to the similarities and linkages of Caroline’s work to the other visualisations of digital work/life interactions such as Dave White’s Visitors and Residents mapping – could there be ways of combining both?  I’ll hopefully get a chance to speak more with her about that during her short sabbatical in Glasgow.

The other image that kept flashing through my head was that of the Jisc Digital Capability framework – I suspect many of Caroline’s competencies would map to that – and in particular digital well being element of the framework.

We all need to raise awareness of digital wellbeing and the need to for organisations (commercial/public sector) and the educational sector to support staff/students/ everyone in terms of managing digital engagement. Just because you have 24/7 access doesn’t mean that you have to be online all the time.

But it is difficult to switch off. I know.  I am getting better at not checking emails over the weekends and a night – but ooh the temptation when you hear that beep on your phone as you post something to instagram.  If someone sends an email at 11pm and you see it why not just answer it there and then?

Well if you’re anything like me if you answer work emails late at night, or on Saturday afternoon when you are trying to to half a dozen things that relate to “real’ not “work” life, or on the train home when you have had to get up at silly o-clock to get to a work meeting at the other end of the country,  you will probably answer too quickly, not read the email properly and on Monday morning realise that you’ll have to send another 3 emails trying to sort everything out.

Having access to another half a dozen digital communication channels isn’t going to help with that. It all stems back to to why and when you want to use something – purpose not platform.

I often go to meetings about restructuring things or creating new working partnerships with the organisation. More often than not better communication methods is raised as a key issue. More often than not there is an assumption that some new “digital” communication channel will automagically solve the problem. More often than not, we never actually spend time really investigation the route of the issues and where the communication blockages are. If we did, we’d probably find we didn’t actually need a new communication channel, just more effective and appropriate use of the ones we already have. It’s easier to try something new (“digital” of course) and put in a training plan for hardware, get everyone to download the app . . .

Unless we all start to manage our digital well being and start to focus more on “the why”, learn to switch on and off at appropriate times, we may all lose our  battles with digital windmills. Cervantes words still hold true today.

“Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind.” Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote