The Law on Data Protection that is being processed in the Cortes Generales includes the right to digital disconnection of workers. The objective? Guarantee that rest time, permits and vacations are respected to enhance the reconciliation of work, personal and family life. But is this digital disconnection advantageous for all employees?
The right to disconnect is just one more measure than is necessary to cushion the problems of a predominant way of understanding work and management style that must change. Spain needs to increase the intensity in knowledge of its economy.
There are sectors in which the idea of a schedule should be blurred and even abandoned, and therefore it would be pointless to talk about the disconnection
As that happens, there will be an increase in work with more possibility of self-control and self-management and that, in turn, will require a change in the way people are managed and schedules established. Let's focus on this, and the disconnection will take care of itself.
Because there are sectors in which, in my opinion, should blur and even abandon the idea of time and, therefore, it would make sense to talk about the disconnection outside working hours. I refer to the knowledge intensive sectors, which in Spain occupied 33% of the active population in 2017 and include, for example, financial activities; professional, scientific and technical activities; research and development; information and communications; The education; etc. In these sectors, workers do not only perform tasks on things or people, but a large part of their work is to use their knowledge and the information they acquire constantly to generate new knowledge.
In this context, sitting at the office table within a schedule does not guarantee greater or better production. What generates this improvement in production are working conditions and motivation. That is, things like having an interesting job that involves a challenge, a stable contract, adequate remuneration, possibilities for professional development, a good relationship with colleagues and superiors, good coordination and organization of work, adequate breaks, or being able to reconcile life labor and personal without agonies.
- More than schedules, let's talk about objectives
In the work of knowledge, more than schedules, what you have to set are objectives, and then let the workers organize themselves as they see fit to reach them. Some limits to this self-organization can be established, if you will, but the central idea remains: the work of knowledge must work by results.
An engineer attends the project meetings in her company, a couple of days goes to the gym in the early afternoon and then, in her favorite cafeteria, she reviews the work that her team is doing and passes comments to her colleagues, with who will treat them at their next meeting. A lawyer leaves and picks up his daughters at school, attends his visits in the office and at home reviews legislation, prepares cases and sends messages before eight and after dinner. All this is possible with current technology and greatly enhances the reconciliation between work and personal life.
It is necessary to learn to establish explicit agreements between the company and the worker, which include both the expected results of that worker and their ability to manage their own time and their use of technology inside and outside of work. For this to be possible, a cultural change is necessary in companies, particularly in their managers.
Management must focus on the results and not on the hours of presence, set goals that are an achievable challenge, adapt the way people work and not people to work, and accept dialogue and flexibility. Without this change of mentality, a law of digital disconnection that comes to patch an outdated way of understanding work becomes essential.
In the work of knowledge, more than schedules, what must be fixed are objectives
To this it could be objected that workers will then be in the "always connected" mode, which is precisely what the right to disconnect wants to avoid. Research on the subject suggests that, in effect, connecting to work outside working hours often leads to problems of rest and conciliation.
But it also points out that when workers are given resources in the form of autonomy and capacity for self-organization, and when the expectation that they are always connected disappears, these problems disappear. With these resources and these expectations, workers feel that they control their level of connection and live the use of technology as something beneficial that facilitates the reconciliation.
Eva Rimbau She holds a PhD in Business Administration and Management and a Professor of Human Resources at the Open University of Catalonia.