Evolution of Communication Technology? Has it been good or bad for you  


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August 13, 2019 9:04 am  


This past weekend I had a conversation with my wife about how communication technology over the course of our careers (and our parents) have changed our life and connectivity to our job/career.  We came to the conclusion that whereas as  whole it has been good, and there have been benefits, we think down to the individual it's not been a good thing (work wise).

Let me explain, When I first started off in my career (not that long ago -nearing 15 years), there were no smart phones - best was maybe a phone called a "blackberry" that had email, a calendar and well that was it.  Internet was useless basically on a phone, no apps yet and forget about color screens.  Our computers had email, internet sure, webex but no such thing as Lync/Skype or systesm allowing shared screens for collaborative working or even virtual meetings..immediately.  I wanted a paper, i went to PubMed.  No body knew where I was, certainly nobody knew when I was in front of my computer and certainly my phone was mainly silent save for emails from time to time.  We had our work, to do, that was understood. Meetings were planned at minimun 1 to 2 weeks in advance, more if we had to travel as a team.

Fast forward today and super connectivety, people know when I'm in front of my computer, constant messaging. Even sitting on a plane during bording process, its ding ding ding on my phone.  Meetings, before in the past one had to plan for a meeting, today, they pop up for next day with 8 to 10 people attending, vritually from where ever, hell even in office, people putting meetings and stay at their desk, What'App and SMS has proliferated as a method of communication in teams.  Travel? not a barrier, can fly to London end of this week for a 3 hour meeting? So meetings and number of person to person engagments in my opinion has skyrocketed. Science..OMG...the amoung of Science, papers, news, coming at me (not only from online put from people I work with) is like a tidal wave. 

There has beed good... for me yes I'm more connected more than ever and communications/decisions that took days to occure now can happen with 24 hours to even hours. I can't ever say I'm not informed science wise (its documented I received something). And, with all this technology a huge benefit to me is, I get to work from home as a remote employee, in a different country to where ...well...ALL my day-to-day team-members are (they're across US, UK, South America, Sweden, France, Germany, etc) . Productivity - much more fast and quantity than before!  And...very importantly, I get data faster than ever.  I know the results of a study much quicker than ever and I can get what I want in days or hours if urgent.

And ..the bad.  Connected all the time basically. Tremedous amout of work-volume much more so in the past, happening simulataneosly.  Little downtime on project milestones, I..e send a document (basically all my documentes are scientific in some sense) for review or update, expecting one has a few days and next thing you know its back in a couple hours. That other project running in pararel , well ..go back to that later.  Tracking is can be challenging and science information, even though received, not consumed! Read a paper..yeah right!    Work life balance, can easlity be tipped in favor of work - i.e. let me just address a few emails on Saturday evening before we watch a movie.  Or I'll take a phone call at 8:00 PM to flex to my California based colleagues, etc. etc. We are more on that ever.  

And yes we put in the tools in place to manage and that management becomes another job in it self (prioritization and time-management we call it). So we do get that work-life balance. Despite my workload I can still tune off at 5:00 PM for my family and tune back on later. And I can still 90 percent of the time not respond ti emails on a weekend. But that's intense "management and prioritzation and productivity".

Constrast my early days, hell, . I can't even phathom my parent's life.  No emails. Cellphones...were..cellphones. No SMS, just phones!. Expensive too to hardly ever used. Fax machines! (what email?)   So ...why were they stressed? (yes it was the times and i'm sure there were stresses linked to other things).  My lab life, well the best computer we had a as one of those first small Apples... iMac i think it was called.

So, over all good as a whole but I do think there as been some bad to at individual level. 

Do you agree?

What has been the good and bad for you?

How do you manage the Science?

Are you more connected than say the past 5 to 10 years, how has that changed science for you? has it?

How's your productivity? Stress due to technology? 

How has it changed over time?  How has it impacted your work life and balance?

Looking at your career - have you thought about these aspects of connectivity? work-life balance, team working?

Looking forward to comments!

Dave Jensen
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August 14, 2019 9:31 pm  

Great Post, DX. Love the topic, and yes the world has sure seen some changes here. I don't think it is generally brought up the stress level. The big difference for me (I've been working in the same field since before there were fax machines!) is that it has meant that there is no more "getting away from work." Work follows you everywhere now, and that's a function of the remarkable changes in "connectedness" that you are remarking on.

In the good old days, stress was present at work during the work day and in whatever work hours you happened to want to put in. So, I've always been sort of a 10 hour guy myself, so from early morning till dinner time, there was stress associated with work, and phone calls to deal with, strategy to write, planes to jump on, and so on. But at least, in the evening hours or before work in the morning, you had time to yourself and you had the ability to completely de-stress.

Now, its a different story. I start out my day by grabbing my cell phone at 5:30 or 6 AM, to see what's going on in my world and there are a dozen urgent things to do. While I am eating breakfast and dealing with my personal life and the things that need to be done there, the phone is ringing or beeping and things are going on all around me. It doesn't help my situation that the East Coast and Europe are far ahead of me for that day.

I'd say that I am indeed able to get more accomplished thanks to all these things you've mentioned. But I would also sadly say that I miss my "off times" and that this is something that I'll never get back -- perhaps, not until retirement. So, if you are just coming up today into this wacky world, I'd say it might be nice to have both a work cell and a personal cell, and to not even pick up the work phone until you start your work hours in the morning. And to put it down at dinner and have the courage not to pick it up again until morning. 

That's tough, however, as there are bosses that want to be connected to their people at all hours. I have colleagues here and I will send emails or texts to them at odd hours, so I know this is a real pain-in-the-rear, but I don't expect that they NEED to reply until the next AM. It's just that there's no place to hold them and so the messages go out, when I wrote them, and it could be while I was sitting at my desk at midnight or at 6 AM. 

Ugh. Technology. When will it stop!


Dave Jensen, Founder and Moderator
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Dick Woodward
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August 14, 2019 11:06 pm  

DX -

I agree with Dave - things have changed a lot. I started my career in 1981 - and my first office computer was an Apple IIe. I was in the US subsidiary of a Swedish company that made research tools. Our primary means of communication with the home office was to write out a note (longhand) and give it to one of the secretaries who was allowed to use the telex machine - at that point, international faxes were quite expensive and telex was much cheaper. International phone calls were fairly uncommon at my level - product manager - and were generally the province of directors and above. And when you did make such a call, there was an etiquette. Some calls went through transatlantic cables, while others were bounced of communications satellites. There was a significant delay - so when you were done speaking, you waited for several seconds for the other party to speak. Now we communicate around the world with almost no delay.

As my career advanced, the communications became more advanced and more immediate, but I am not certain that the stress level has increased that much. Perhaps this is due to the fact that for a large chunk of my career, my office has been in the basement of my home. As Dave points out, you do need to just pick a time and "shut down" to keep your sanity.

I do want to mention one invention that made life easier for those of us who were in sales and traveled a lot - the ready availability of relatively inexpensive cell phones. Not the smart phones that we have now - just the clunky flip phones where you had to extend an antenna and everything.

When I first started selling (in the mid 1980s) every salesperson knew all of the hotels in the territory that had a reasonable good bank of pay phones. (I was particularly fond of the Sheraton Tara in Framingham, Massachusetts - it had a long corridor with several alcoves, each containing 2 wing chairs and a telephone - if you had a credit card, you could call out on the phones. It sure beat calling customers from a gas station...) When there were conferences, some venues would actually add additional temporary phone banks. There was even an etiquette about the use of the phones - you would stand back far enough so as not to be eavesdropping, and everyone was polite about the order that people got to use the phones. The problem was that to make a call to get your messages, it might take you 20 minutes to get to the phone. That was 20 minutes that could have been better used. The cell phone changed all that - to the better. Conference centers rarely have pay phones any more.

Email was another boon. In the pre-email (and often pre-voice-mail) era, there was a sport called "phone tag" - there were rumors that it was being considered for the Olympics. It went like this. I would call a client and get either an admin (early on) or voice mail. I would state my business and ask them to call me back. They would call back and get my admin or voice mail. This cycle could go on for weeks. (In one of the sales management books in my library, the author apparently kept his wife's divorce lawyer at bay for weeks with phone tag...) Now, most issues can be resolved by email or, if a conversation is really necessary, you use email to set up the time. (There are, of course, other ways of doing this now.)

Email has also been great for salespeople planning a trip to an area - I have had several positions where my clients were spread out around the USA. Rather than play phone tag, email made setting up appointments infinitely easier. It is also a great method for "cold calling" - most companies have a defined formula for email, so once you have cracked that (pretty easy if you know what you are doing, and even more so now with the advent of sites like LinkedIn and the now defunct Jigsaw site), it is pretty easy to send an email asking for an appointment and explaining why they should meet with you. This is especially useful at trade shows.

Video communication is also great. It has gone from the point where the lag was unbearable (the first time I did one - from San Francisco to San Diego - I made a joke and the other end laughed 4 seconds later) and movements looked like there was a strobe light in use. More recently, I was in frequent communication with a potential client in the Middle East - we chatted on Skype and the delay was not noticeable. The downside was that I had to put on a clean shirt and clean up the office...

So - all in all - I think that we are better off with today's communications than we were previously, although it does leave more potential for a boss to abuse, and there are some goofs that are pretty funny. Since I don't know where I am going to be in the house, my office line rings everywhere we have a phone. One day, it rang at about 2 am. I stumbled out of bed and answered it (2 am phone calls generally are bad news.) It turns out to be a colleague in Europe who assumed that he would be leaving a voice mail. Oh, well...


This post was modified 6 days ago by Dick Woodward

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August 19, 2019 8:54 am  

Hi Dick/Dave

Its funny, to Dick one of the technologies that not used much any more is Voicemail, at least where I am.  I remember one of my early companies put voicemail directly into our emails, from our cell phones.  So you'd click an email and get the voicemail.

That Killed Voicemail! At the time I was field-force MSL and most of my phonecalls were with the Sales folks (we were very close in our collaborations/work) and I think the "fear" of "records' was a driver, even though everything we were doing were by the books, fear of mis interpretation and things said out of context stop that.  Email with sales was basically dead in the water so were were basically, old school for the time, SMS and phone.  You'd see who tried to call so it was basically "phone tag" as you described even with best of technology!  (we didn't have messaging or What'sapp then).

To Dave's point that being "on" all the time needs constant managing and like you Dave, i also can be at risk for checking my work phone when I wake up (even before I say good morning to my kid!).   I try not to do that.  I do keep a personal phone as well, and that's solid advice to tune off.   My job requires that I "check-in" or "watch my emails" for any burning fires while on vacation - these days the world is quite connected its hard to go someplace without connectivity.  Hell i was 2500 meters above sea level this weekend in the mountains and full bars and 4G available.  So it's the battle of shutting off.

Like Dick I also have that experience of someone in a differnt timezone calling....aye aye aye.   But i do find Voicemail going the way of the Dodo.  Email, hell now WhatsApp are key means of immediate communication, my Boss is a What'App/SMS so even importatn topics and decisions are taking on What'sapp or SMS on realtime and then later on documented on email. 

My dad was like you Dick, his early days in Sales, knew where all the payphones were.  They had Beepers back then so at best you knew who to call - just had to get to a payphone.  To be honest, I think he preferred that, he hated the cellphone from the very meant...he could be accessible.  He enjoyed the life when nobody knew where he was, so for him all that put some curbing on his freedoms.   Later when he was GM, at best he had a flip phone no internet on it, and email internet in the office.  

I don't know what being field-force is like today, considering in my time, our computers were not really connected when in the field (now I hear they all have internet connectivity via phone networkds), and how much Customer Relations Management systems have gone to mobile app but I can imagine that makes you much more connnected than ever before to the mothership.   iPads, I see them used in the field, save for a conversation with an account manager for pricing i dont know if I would use them when talking to customers (detailing) if I was field force, I'm sure that's standard practice today?

But interesting and on the science side, aye so much so much , i can't controll then I just get under water with science such that the big problem I have is I just can't keep up and may actually miss a publication.  C'est la vie.