Packing the suitcases and setting off on vacation doesn't necessarily mean that IT executives are able to completely disconnect while away from work, but they are enjoying more downtime. Though they still feel the need to check in at least once a day, more executives say that their staff are well equipped to deal with critical situations.
According to a recent survey conducted by TekSystems, a leading provider of IT staffing solutions, "Just 13 percent of senior-level IT professionals say they feel obligated to be accessible 24/7 during a normal work week in 2015, a significant drop from the 61 percent that said the same the previous year."
Those that are checking in admit that the motivation is either to reduce the overwhelming number of emails that they will return to or a bit of a character flaw in that they can't let go.
Shaun Miller, Information Security Officer at Bank of Labor, admits that he checks in two to three times a day, "partly because things nag at me. I want to check to see no emails. I'm usually checking in for peace of mind." Miller said that while his work phone is normally forwarded to his cell phone, he turns that forwarding off while on vacation.
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While on vacation, Miller sets up an out of office message on his email and he relies on his staff to take care of critical issues. "In my absence," he said, "three members of a steering committee are able to sign off on changes and there is an approval process for others to take care of issues."
Though Miller usually checks in while on vacation, there were a couple of times when he was forced to completely disconnect. "One was on a cruise. I put my phone in the safe and had no access," Miller said. "The second time I was out of the country but had no access to email."
Apparently, the cruise ship is the best place to go if you want to completely disconnect from work as David MacLeod, vice president of Information Technology and CISO at Zenith American Solutions, also was forced to put his phone aside and accept his fate of not being able to check in at all while he and his wife were aboard a cruise ship some years ago.
MacLeod also talked about the massive number of emails that can accumulate while he's away, which does cause him to worry about what he will return to. "I can receive 2,500 to 3,000 emails, so I try to wake up early to knock these out," said MacLeod.
Part of the problem with disconnecting during summer vacation is that everyone else is also on summer vacation. "My wife and I went to Mexico in February, and I was completely relaxed," MacLeod said, "the most relaxing vacation that I've been able to enjoy are those I have taken off season."
Taking a vacation off season, especially for those families with school-aged children isn't always an option, though. "It's difficult because families want to take vacations during the summer because kids are out of school, but summer is also the time when the people I depend on are also out of the office. My A team may also be on vacation," MacLeod said.
Trusting that their best players are at the helm while they are away from the office is one reason why executives are able to feel more at ease and either minimize their checking in or completely disconnect.
Will moving to a cloud based infrastructure help executives achieve a better work-life balance?
Randy Kuehntopp, vice president of Information Technology at PRONERVE, is one executive who has learned to completely disconnect. He credits this shift to the cloud for his ability to enjoy downtime without potential issues nagging at him while on vacation.
"We completely redid the architecture and completely changed everything. Our uptime was not good, but now we have a cloud-based infrastructure with 100% uptime. We outsourced all of our critical infrastructure, even our phone system," said Kuehntopp.
But Jennifer Minella vice president of engineering at Carolina Advanced Digital, said, "Even hosted stuff can be problematic, especially from the security side because at the executive level, you're still responsible for the security."
That haunting feeling of a disastrous situation occurring is not an easy one to ignore. Yet knowing that they can trust their team to deal with critical issues takes the pressure off while they are trying to achieve a work-life balance.
"I put a lot of stock into a work-life balance," said Minella. She admits that learning to disconnect was a process for her, but she realized that she needed to change her habits and mindset.
Many have the intention of leaving work at work, but the need for peace of mind or the fear of disaster keeps them connected, especially when they have access to work email on their phones, which are always with them. "I'd tell myself that I was just going to check my mail to stay ahead of the curve and delete the junk," said Minella, "but checking it wasn't putting me ahead, it was putting me behind."
"It's like a diet," said Minella. "If it's not sustainable it won't work."
What is the best diet for disconnecting?
"Take little bites," Minella said. "I started by trying not to look at my email at night. I wake up at about 4:30 a.m., so it was only about four hours to start, but I realized that nothing happened during those four hours." Minella admits that she is much better about being able to resist the urge to check in, though the only time she has completely disconnected was about 10 years ago while on a (wait for it) cruise.
Eventually, those hours of disconnectedness grow a little longer, and it's these small steps that make being able to completely disconnect for a week's vacation possible. Minella said her process for ensuring that all runs smoothly in her absence addresses three concerns: preparation, team, and mindset.
In preparing for a vacation, executives can let people know that they will be gone and who their escalation point contacts are, said Minella, who puts an auto reply on her email days or even a week before she is going away to alert partners, customers, and colleagues that she'll be out of the office.
Minella echoed the other executives who have come to rely on their teams to be able to handle critical situations. "It's important to be surrounded by people you trust, to be able to offload onto them, and that they are able to make authorizations in your absence," Minella said. She said the keys to building a strong team are "communication, collaboration, and trust."
What's most important in being able to relax and enjoy a vacation, is "being OK with not staying on top of things. In our heads we always think we are working," said Minella. Shifting the mindset to accept that they trust their staff will help them to relax a little bit more.