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Should We Adopt France’s New “Unplug After 6 p.m.” Law?

Should We Adopt France’s New “Unplug After 6 p.m.” Law?
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How often do you check your work email?

If you’re like me–and a lot of people these days–the answer is too often.

I confess that I check my work email after hours and on the weekend. If I see something coming in that I can respond to at the moment, I do. So even if I’m “relaxing,” I am working. My mind is always at least half-plugged into my job.

That’s why the news coming out of France is an interesting topic of discussion. While the initial headline (“France Outlaws Work Email After 6 p.m.”) is not quite true, it is still a bold statement in favor of unplugging and work/life balance.

Should we, in the U.S., follow suit and unplug after the workday is over? Can, and should, we limit the hours we spend working, either at the office or while thumbing through our inbox while waiting at the post office?

Working smarter, not harder

One of the popular reactions to France’s move was a figurative roll of the eyes. Some folks were not surprised France did this. As the stereotype goes, French workers spend most of their time sipping wine and eating baguettes. That’s why their productivity, at the individual level as well as a country, is so far below America’s. Right?

Let’s look at the facts. The graph below (from Business Insider) shows the average number of work hours per year for a full-time employee in the U.S. (blue), France (red), and Germany (green). Germany is in there because it’s one of the United States’ fiercest competitor in the race for most productive industrial country in the world.

usvsfrenchvsgermany

    As you can see, the United States is currently leading the pack with the average American worker spending over 1,700 hours at work a year. Meanwhile, French workers spend around 1,450, and the German worker spends slightly over 1,400 hours at work a year.

    Notice how the American domination of the “Burning the Midnight Oil” race (they get medals and everything) is recent. A few decades ago, the French were putting in many more hours than their American counterparts, but that has changed with stricter labor laws.

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    This graph is definitive proof that all those extra hours are making the American economy the burliest in the land by leaps and bounds, right?

    Cool your jets, engine. Not quite.

    Look at the GDP per Capita (productivity or output per worker) for the same three countries over the last thirty years.

    GDP per Capita in 1980

    US: $12,180

    France: $12, 214

    Germany: $11,746

    GDP per Capita in 1990

    US: $23,038

    France: $21,359

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    Germany: $21,584

    GDP per Capita in 2011

    US: $48,112

    France: $42, 379

    Germany: $44,021

    While Americans spend nearly 20% more of their time at work than the Germans and French, they only have an 8.5% edge over them in productivity.

    There are a variety of reasons for this: how specialized the work in each country is, the average level of education, etc. But one thing is clear: an increase of work hours does not increase productivity on an arithmetic, much less exponential, scale. There is a simple reason why: we are talking about human beings.

    Unlike machines or software, we can’t go on and on without suffering from fatigue or wear. We add stress to our bodies and minds throughout the day. This is called the allostatic load.

    Being plugged in to work (via emails, calls, or having it on your mind) is wear and tear on your entire self. After a certain point, it starts to affect your productivity. Each extra hour at work has diminishing returns. Fatigue, lack of concentration, and loss of functional memory set in.

    Ironically, not working is one of the most important secrets to doing great work.

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    Research shows that taking an email vacation can significantly reduce your stress and increase your concentration.

    From a University of California – Irvine study:

    “We found that when you remove email from workers’ lives, they multitask less and experience less stress.”

    Taking a work email vacation lets your internal microprocessor cool down. You’re turning off the hum from the part of your brain still thinking about deadlines and memos. Do this, and the next time you re-engage with work, you’ll be fresh and focused, ready to do great work.

    Every time you work into the wee hours of the night, sending emails or finishing a project, you are risking doing poor work. Your body and mind are tired, so mistakes are likelier to happen. If you want to do work you’ll be proud of, you have to find ways of working smarter, not harder.

    Warning: cliff ahead

    Our brains are amazing. They can calculate, visualize, and operate with tremendous power. But they have limits. These limits don’t just affect your productivity, but your health.

    Quite literally, working long hours can kill you.

    A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology combined numerous studies, and found a simple, irrefutable truth:

    “Spending too long in the office resulted in a 40 to 80 percent greater chance of heart disease compared to an eight hour work day.”

     

    “Doing more than 11 hours of work a day raised heart disease risks by 67 percent.”

    Another study review listed all of the proven links between working long hours and your health:

    “[It] shows that long work hours are indeed associated with adverse health, in particular cardiovascular disease, disability retirement, subjectively measured poor health, and fatigue.”

     

    “The most interesting studies show that working more than 11 hours a day is associated with a three times higher risk of myocardial infarction and about a four times higher risk of noninsulin-dependent diabetes”

    This is no longer just an issue of whether you want to do great work, but whether you want to do this to your health?

    The move made in France is bold. It’s potentially revolutionary, and may, hopefully, set the tone for other countries. But it makes you wonder why it had to get to that point. Why did we need something official to limit us to the 40-hour work week when these nasty facts linking productivity and health have been confirmed time and again for decades?

    Maybe it’s custom, or maybe it’s naivete. Whatever it is, there’s no good excuse to ignore it anymore. Ask yourself this question: do you want to do very good work for a long time? If you said yes, then give yourself a break and step away from the smartphone.

     

    How do you achieve work life balance? Tell me in the comments below.

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    Featured photo credit: Chris Chan via flickr.com

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    Published on July 27, 2021

    15 Smart Video Conferencing Etiquette Tips to Follow

    15 Smart Video Conferencing Etiquette Tips to Follow
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    During the pandemic, video conferencing replaced in-person meetings and has now become the standard option for business meetings. Over the past 17 months, most workers have gotten past the video conferencing learning curve with Zoom or Microsoft Teams (or their platform of choice).

    But just as with in-person meetings, attention can wax and wane. Some say we’re just not used to staring at ourselves so much on the screen. Instead of fixating on that, try employing smart video conferencing etiquette, or you may risk indiscretions that will flag you as a slacker.

    Put the Pro in Professional

    After more than a year of fine-tuning, here are the new rules of video conferencing etiquette.

    1. Mute Your Mobile and Other Devices

    The first video conference etiquette you need to know is muting your other devices. Just as in the pre-COVID days, someone’s obnoxious ring tone blaring Taylor Swift’s newest single in the middle of a meeting is also an annoyance if it happens during a Zoom meeting and so is the inevitable fumbling to turn off the sound. Even the apologies to the group get tiresome.

    Also, when notifications are activated on the computer that you’re using for the meeting, the incoming message takes over the audio and you’ll miss out on snippets of the conversation. Be sure to eliminate this possible faux pas.

    2. Dress the Part

    While working from home, you may have fallen into the habit of slipping on your comfiest T-shirt each day. Hey, no judgments! But before you log on to your video conference, try to make an effort with your appearance.

    Depending on your company culture and the importance of your meeting, consider dressing the part of the professional whom you wish to project. It will help you feel more self-assured, and others will likely take you more seriously.

    For women, wear light make-up, put on earrings, and make sure your blouse is crisply pressed. For men, show up freshly shaved. Wearing a crisp collared shirt in a solid color will usually suffice.

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    Pro Tip: Stay away from wearing white or black, unless those colors look great on you. Consider wearing light blue or brown instead.

    3. Stage Your Workspace

    Have you noticed the backdrops of experts interviewed on news shows? Bookshelves and photographs are carefully curated, and no busy-patterned furniture or artwork is in sight.

    Take note of what appears behind you when you choose the location of your video conferences. Piles of junk mail on the table or stacks of folded laundry on the couch will convey more about your personal life than you care to share. Make sure you remove clutter from the camera’s eye, and present a tidy, orderly workspace to your colleagues, coworkers, and bosses.

    4. Put Some Thought Into Lighting and Perspective

    Be aware that in a video conference, your computer camera can actually make you look up to ten pounds heavier depending on where you sit. But you can easily drop those added pounds by moving back from the screen to diminish the wide-angle distortion.

    Frame your head on the screen by tilting the screen up or down. Also, it’s best to not place yourself in front of a window or bright light, which makes you appear in shadow. Instead, face the light source, moving it (or yourself) until you have a flattering amount of illumination. You can also purchase some small spotlights that allow you to add light as needed.

    Pro Tip: If your lights add too much redness to your skin, consider counter-balancing with a green filter.

    Remember That Half of Life Is Showing Up

    5. Arrive on Time

    In the old days of in-person meetings, it was nearly impossible to slip in late into a meeting unnoticed. In today’s video conferences, logging in late still shows poor form. Instead, strive to arrive five minutes early and get yourself settled.

    Once the meeting is underway, the host may be less attentive about late arrivals waiting to be let in. Diverting the host’s attention away from the meeting with a tardy entry request is the ultimate giveaway that you didn’t honor the schedule. If you don’t want a black mark against you, log in on time.

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    6. Turn on Your Video

    Few people like to see their face on the screen, but buck up and turn on your camera in video conferences. In most cases, it’s better to be a face on a screen than a name in a blank square. Your statements will be more memorable when other meeting attendees can see you.

    If you need to turn off the video, either because of a poor connection, some commotion in the room, or a need for a quick break, give a short explanation via the chat feature. Then, go back on video as soon as you’re able.

    Pro Tip: Keep your explanation for your departure pithy. “Sorry! Doorbell rang. Back in five” says it all. Be sure to honor what you say in chat and really do return in five minutes.

    7. Plan Ahead Before Sharing Your Screen

    Don’t be one of those people who makes everyone else wait as you click through folders in search of a document. That’s just poor video conferencing etiquette. If you know you’ll need to share a document or video on your screen, prepare by pulling it out of its folder and onto your desktop. Also, clean up the files and folders on your desktop to reduce clutter and facilitate easy access. Close other programs like chat, calendar notifications, and email. Disable pop-up notifications to ensure there’ll be no unforeseen distractions.

    Be sure to remind the host before the meeting that you’ll need them to activate the screen-sharing function. Show courtesy once you’re finished by hitting “stop share” to return to the screen with participants.

    Attend to the Pesky Details

    8. Make Sure That Meetings Remain Right-Sized

    With the easy accessibility of video conferencing, it can be tempting to extend the meeting invitation beyond the core group and include everyone peripherally involved in a project. But just as with in-person meetings, the more people involved, the more unwieldy the meeting becomes.

    Use good judgment when asking others to sit through a video conference so that you don’t needlessly take up others’ time and so that participants can be fully engaged.

    9. Remember to “Unmute” Before You Speak

    Most of us are likely able to count on one hand the number of video conferences when someone didn’t have to be reminded, “You’re on mute!” Forgetting to unmute before speaking has become one of the most common missteps in video conferencing.[1]

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    Show everyone your impeccable video-conferencing poise by managing your mute feature with flawless control.

    10. Stay on Point to Keep the Meeting Length in Check

    As with in-person meetings, an agenda with assigned time limits for discussions remains necessary to keep a meeting focused. Data shows, however, that video conferencing can actually reduce meeting time.[2] Reasons include the elimination of commuting time and the ability to screen share and annotate to keep everyone on task.

    Additionally, side conversations are virtually impossible with video conferencing now that you can no longer have back-and-forth exchanges with the person beside you.

    Pro Tip: If you’re running the meeting, let attendees know in advance the protocol for the chat feature. Is it okay for them to “chat among themselves” or not? (See point 11, as well.)

    Talking Has a Time and a Place

    11. Chat Appropriately

    Just like side conversations or texting in an in-person meeting, the use of the chat feature during a video conference can be disrespectful unless it’s directed to all participants. Hence, it’s good video conferencing etiquette to mind your use of the chat.

    At the start of the meeting, you may want to ask the host if it’s alright for participants to use the chat feature. This allows them to disable it if they choose. Used appropriately, it can be a helpful tool to clarify or amplify an earlier point once the conversation has moved on or to let the group know that you need to sign off early (and why).

    12. Use the “Raise Hand” Feature to Avoid Interruptions

    The slight lag in many video conferences can result in speaking over another person if you attempt to jump into a conversation. To avoid this awkward interruption, indicate when you have something to add to the discussion with the raise-your-hand feature that signals the host you would like to speak. This effective meeting management device makes video conferencing run more smoothly, especially with a large group, but it must be activated and monitored by the host.

    Pro Tip: For meetings of six to ten people, sometimes the old-fashioned raising of your physical hand may be the best option. But it’s up to the meeting host. Ask them what they would prefer, and follow that.

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    13. Don’t Record the Session or Take Photos Without Prior Permission

    In this case, not sharing is caring. The “sharing culture” made popular through social media has little place in video conferencing. Before recording a meeting or capturing a screenshot of the participants, always ask for consent in advance from the full roster of attendees. Knowing that a video conference will be photographed or recorded could have a bearing on what others are willing to discuss.

    Manage Yourself

    14. Minimize Distractions

    While de-activating audio and video features can keep distractions from affecting the other participants, you will need to manage noise and disruptions on your end to give your full attention to the meeting.

    Move out of high-traffic zones in your home, keep your door closed, and ask family members to be considerate.

    15. Save Snacking for Later

    Save snacking for later—or earlier. Eating while on video conference is a no-no. Munching in front of the group while close to the camera—as you are when video conferencing—subjects the participants to an up-close and (too) personal view of your food consumption process.

    However, it’s perfectly fine to sip quietly from a glass of water or cup of coffee or tea. If the meeting threatens to last for more than two hours, you may want to ask the host in advance to schedule a five-minute break at the halfway point.

    Final Thoughts

    Even though bosses are now beginning to ask workers to spend some of their workdays on-site, up to 80 percent will permit employees to work remotely at least part of the time, which means more video conferencing in your future.[3] Mastering these video conferencing etiquette tips will help you dial in—as well as dial back—your participation and demonstrate your unwavering level of engagement to the team.

    Featured photo credit: Chris Montgomery via unsplash.com

    Reference

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