This past year, for a variety of reasons, I did not take an extended vacation until the last week of the year. And I have to say, I definitely was looking forward to having 11 days off. But I noticed that, a few times before I left, I was telling people, “It’s a great week to take off because most people are on vacation, so I don’t need to constantly be checking my e-mail.” Which made me wonder: when did a vacation not become a vacation?
So I started to look back. I began working in 1989 for Fidelity Investments as a 403(b) customer service representative. We didn’t have e-mail or Internet access then. We answered calls to the best of our ability based on classroom training, word of mouth, and information we kept around our desks. Our knowledge was based on referencing Post-it notes, cheat sheets, and large binders where all information specific to each retirement plan was kept. We would get updates every day that might or might not make their way alphabetically into the binder—usually we just stuffed them in the front and paged through them when we needed something. When someone called, we did our best to get them the right answers as quickly as we could, but we certainly had challenges.
Fast-forward a few years. I was given the responsibility of developing an online information delivery method for the phone reps. I worked with a couple computer programmers (I think they used Pascal or Fortran!) to design and create an online system. We built a system that one person would update weekly, from which our phone reps could easily find relatively up-to-date information more quickly. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the first of many, many “web apps” I would work on throughout my career. Back then, there wasn’t a “Development” team that I recall, and there was no such thing as website usability. I don’t even think websites existed—at least not in the sense that we know them now. And in those days, I know for sure that I wasn’t tied to my phone or e-mail, or even thinking about work while on my vacation. My vacation was a vacation.
How times have changed, huh? Today, communicating information is no longer considered a “technical” role. The technology is assumed—as is consistent and accurate information—in real time. So expectations have been set, and, as a result, there is a cost. A vacation is not a vacation anymore. “You snooze, you lose” has never rang so true, and being responsible for getting information out carries with it the assumption of being available to do so, anytime, anywhere.
But you know what? That’s fine by me. Technology has moved us so far forward in the last 20 years, and I feel so lucky to have been both a witness and a participant in our move from a place of inefficiency and misinformation to one of real-time information and transparency. With that said, I do feel the pendulum has swung a little too far and that we still have a way to go. Now the challenge is figuring out how to effectively deliver all the available information without overwhelming recipients and how to ensure that the information is truly accurate (both topics for another day).
No one knows what the future holds. Can this pace of advancement be sustained? I’d be lying if I said I hoped it could be. For me, I’d like to sit back and smile, happy to have been part of where we are now and continue to focus on how to most effectively communicate going forward. On the beach or at my desk, I find it all so exciting, and I love doing my part. So if my vacation isn’t 100-percent vacation, I’m okay with it.
How about you? Do you find yourself checking in at the office, even when you're on vacation?