Tech-Free Vacation: Why Unplugging Isn't Practical - InformationWeek

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12/23/2014
08:06 AM
Roni Amiel
Roni Amiel
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Tech-Free Vacation: Why Unplugging Isn't Practical

Many of us crave a holiday break from technology, but sometimes it's easier said than done.

Most of us probably spend more quality time connected to various devices than we do with the people we hold dear. Sure, technology is remarkable -- but nowadays we crave a break from the work emails and phone calls that consume us. But is a true break from technology really practical?

Probably not. According to a 2012 Time magazine poll, 84% of people said that they could not go a single day without their cellphones, while 68% admitted they even sleep with their phone next to them like a teddy bear.

As freeing as an unplugged holiday may seem, it's just not practical for me in my role as a CIO/CISO. Take the consequences of working in a global market. This has forced me to increase my visibility and availability, and to maintain a high level of reliability when it comes to technology assets -- all of which I lose if I vow not to check email or take work calls.

(Image: Pixabay)
(Image: Pixabay)

There's also the role I play in security and risk management. Given the rising number of security breaches -- and knowing that hackers don't always attack during business hours -- I need to be available around the clock. Finally, transformative and disruptive technologies come into play. Though they're often helpful, they also mean that CIOs are further expected to be available should problems arise. In a hospital environment, for example, these technologies might include a decision support system or a clinical intelligence solution that clinicians rely on to make patient care decisions.

[Sometimes you can't unplug even if you try. Read 7 Excuses To Avoid Family Tech Support.]

But on a more personal level, disconnecting during the holidays would also impact my interactions with friends and family -- we Skype with relatives, Facebook with friends, and engage on Twitter, for example. Disavowing technology for my immediate family means less quality time with my extended family, too.

Though some people might view technology as a burden during time off, I'm actually thankful for it. Being connected means I can take a week-long vacation and not worry that my absence might cause a catastrophe in my organization -- because people know they can reach me if they must. (Still, not once in my career have I received "the call" while away -- that notification that a critical information asset failed and was likely to impact core services. Knock on wood.)

I learned very early in my career that taking time off and staying connected is a delicate balance. If a crisis arises where I absolutely have to work, I carve out a set period of time during the day to do so. I'm also able to recognize when my presence is not absolutely necessary, and I know when to just say no.

Here's what I recommend for balancing work while on vacation: First, be proactive about scheduling and build downtime into your schedule. In that time, focus on those activities that add value, and consider outsourcing or delegating the stuff that doesn't. Finally, realize that a little relaxation goes a long way in helping you recharge.

What are your plans for managing (or avoiding) technology this vacation? Let's hear your thoughts.

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Roni Amiel has served as the CIO and CISO at the Blythedale Children's Hospital since 2011. Previously, he worked as CIO/CISO for the office of the Chief Medical Examiner of the City of New York's Department of Health. He holds degrees and has completed academic programs in ... View Full Bio
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impactnow
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impactnow,
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12/29/2014 | 4:27:24 PM
Re: Tech-Free Vacation: Why Unplugging Isn't Practical

 

In a life or death type of business I think it's most practical to have a backup that tis not on vacation. If we rely on someone that is travelling for those types of issues the consequences could literally cost someone their life. Creating an infrastructure of command when someone is away is the best way to handle those issues.

Ariella
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Ariella,
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12/27/2014 | 6:07:33 PM
Re: Tech-Free Vacation: Why Unplugging Isn't Practical
@SachineEE As I said, one needs a backup person for when the main one can't get there like doctors set up. The problem is the backup may not be as dedicated as the main guy. I used to have a single doctor practice for my kids. When he went away on vacation, he referred us to another practice. But when I called for my kid to be seen for a sick visit, they refused to see her b/c they wanted to close us soon. (Ironically, the place was only a block away, and we would have been ther in plenty of time). This was before Urgent Care places started springing up in my neighborhood like mushrooms after rain. 
Ariella
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Ariella,
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12/24/2014 | 9:44:43 AM
Re: Tech-Free Vacation: Why Unplugging Isn't Practical
@freespiritny25 Not every emergency can wait, though. If an investment bank's systems go down, any delay can costs millions, even billions. And for hospital systems, there can be major consequences, as having to work around a malfunctioning system slows down communication and setups. In a life and death situation, that kind of delay can have devastating conseuqneces. But as one person really cannot be on call 24/7/52 (I hate the logical leap of 7 to 365) there has to be someone else one can call if the person is off, just like doctors get somoene to cover for them.
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
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12/24/2014 | 9:35:26 AM
Re: Tech benfits of being plugged in
I've learned that often being half-way plugged in while on vacation can be more disruptive than completely disconnected. People in full-speed problem-solving mode shouldn't have to wait around for my opinion rendered during breaks in my vacation activities.
impactnow
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impactnow,
User Rank: Author
12/23/2014 | 4:56:49 PM
Tech benfits of being plugged in

I do try to disconnect on vacation unless there is the true emergency. I still drop into email and read messages though I may not respond if I have an out of office message on. Reading through my emails help eliminate the advance when I return and helps me understand what needs my attention. I agree that technology is not an albatross for me, I like having my devices while I am away because they also offer great entertainment like movies, magazines, music and newspapers.

Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
12/23/2014 | 2:51:29 PM
Unplug time
I talked to a CIO this year who told me he got the call from the CEO that something was wrong with email on christmas eve. He took the call of course. His theory is if he is reachable, few bad things will happen. But I am not a CIO. Personally, I believe in unplugging and am lucky to work with a team that feels the same.
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
12/23/2014 | 10:32:02 AM
Leadership test
Isn't part of leadership building a strong team that can function in your absence? Even in a crisis?

If you're indispensable, maybe you're doing something wrong.
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