Some Virgin Airlines offices in America and the UK are implementing a radical new policy to encourage a “digital detox” for staff.
From 10:00am to noon on Wednesdays, 200 workers across the offices are left without email access as the servers are switched off entirely, reports Mashable. The multinational company wants staff to send less emails and engage in more face to face meetings.
During this two-hour detox, workers are encouraged to get away from their desk, whether that means visiting the company’s gym, or conducting walking meetings or running clubs.
Access to other forms of communication are not restricted, so urgent messages can still be sent and received. Virgin’s global head of brand Lisa Thomas told Mashable the program had been generally well received, though some external relations workers were finding the switch hard.
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“They embrace that we’re making attempts to create a better balance in their day. They understand that being overly reliant on email isn’t particularly good,” Thomas says.
“We want people to live a good work-life balance and our mission is to create a happy workforce.”
Workers in the UK offices have been somewhat dubious about the changes, but have come to embrace the digital downtime.
“Meetings we have during those times have a different feel, they’re more brainstorming sessions, more casual. You’re more mindful of what you’re doing,” Claire Kelly, senior content executive at Virgin London told Mashable.
“It gives people time to be creative and flexible”
Director at wattsnext HR Ben Watts told SmartCompany the idea was “brilliant,” but warned it might not be for everyone.
“It’s a fantastic idea but it’s not ideal for all businesses. If you’re mostly in the cloud, it is very hard to “shut down” the email servers,” Watts says.
Despite that, Watts says these sort of initiatives can work wonders for worker productivity, wellness and workplace experience.
“You often see situations where emails are being sent to someone who is sitting two metres away, they could just sit down and have a chat,” he says.
“Electronic communication will never replace face to face interaction, so forcing people to do that sends a great message.”
Watts acknowledges there can be a downside for some businesses, especially ones that are heavily customer focused, but believes “the positives outweigh the negatives”.
“The world needs to focus more on a “digital detox”, so this is one small step towards that,” Watts says.
Turning the servers off every day of the week would be a bit much, Watts says, acknowledging, “you’ve got to run a business.” However, he believes workplace relationships can benefit greatly from switching off even two hours a week.
“By encouraging face to face interactions, people will get to know each other better, and the business will benefit from stronger workplace relationships,” he says.
“It also gives people time to be creative and flexible instead of just sitting there and answering emails all day.”
This isn’t the first time Virgin founder Richard Branson has implemented radical new policies, telling staff in 2014 they could take as many holidays as they wanted without need to ask for approval.
SmartCompany contacted Virgin Australia, which is understood to not currently implement the policy, but did not receive a response prior to publication.
It is unlikely the email policy would be appropriate in Australia, given staff at Virgin Australia are largely responsible for operating commercial flights.