How can being present be so difficult sometimes?

There is a lot of talk about the significance of being present, especially in connection with raising children. It is not enough to be physically present however, your mind must be present as well. But why is being present so difficult sometimes? What about the meaning of being present at the workplace? In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, I have been thinking a lot about how the digital era and virtuality have provided a lot of freedom for working regardless of place, yet also presented a challenge: how to take a break when work is always and everywhere within arm's reach. What about virtuality, is it possible to be genuinely present there?


Importance of being present at the workplace

Very often I notice in a meeting that someone is tapping on their laptop or watching something intensively on their smartphone screen. Irritating to the other participants? Yes. I read somewhere that a majority of meetings are unnecessary. I do not agree with this in my own work, but I would like to get rid of inefficient meetings. I personally feel that inefficiency is caused by the lack of genuine presence. People are there, but not actually present. Their mind is wandering, the work-to-do list goes around in their minds; they have to check their e-mail even in the middle of a meeting. But would it be the most efficient to be intensively present for a moment and listen to colleagues? I do not always succeed in this myself, either, but I try to do my best and concentrate on being present.

Screen time limitations?

The same tips that articles on raising children now often propose could be applied at workplaces as well: limiting the amount of time spent watching the screen. Screen time could be prohibited at meetings if watching the screen is not essentially linked to the subject. Should we begin our next meeting by putting phones and laptops on a side table? The meeting could be a lot more efficient as a result. Brain research has told it to us several times: multitasking is not efficient. Let's concentrate and be present, it is not only efficient but also respects others.

Virtually present

Looking at my own child, a teenager born in the digital area in the friend relationships of which virtual presence is comparable to physical presence, I again think about the phenomenon at the workplace: can genuine presence in the working community also be virtual? Changing forms of work take people physically far away from each other at times. Many people have their teams and even supervisors very far, even in a different country. But is it nevertheless possible to be in present the everyday lives of employees and colleagues virtually?

A study conducted at the University of Tampere recently listed the most important properties of the future manager: future (to my mind, even current) managers are required to be able to naturally use technology, have good social skills, and be able to empower and establish networks. It is an interesting list and one that makes sense. I imagine that an actively discussing, social and networking manager will need to increasingly utilize digital channels for communication in different directions. Not forgetting genuine presence and encounters.

Let's think about remote management, for example. A manager who is physically far away can be very present via digital means, if they want to and are active. Chat, Skype, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Instagram… you name it – the tools are there. However, it is probably often a sad fact that managers have perhaps just enough time to spare to reply to e-mails. I do not consider e-mail virtual presence, it is not discussion. Well, young generations born in the era of social media will soon take managerial positions, and they are likely to correct this. Bling, bling, the boss is asking how things are today!

I personally feel that the tools of the digital era are an excellent way of expressing interest and communicating, no matter if colleagues, friends or family are concerned. Yet they do not completely replace the importance of physical presence, neither at home nor at the workplace. They help to keep up to date, allow checking quickly how things are proceeding, and allow you to pep people and share information quickly to different teams. I, however, would not want to have a fully virtual workplace. I miss verbose conversation, expressions and gestures. Genuine presence and listening. I myself use social media and digital tools a lot, and a day without my smartphone is a disaster. Yet I try to do my best at being more present, both at work and at home. Sometimes it is a good idea to concentrate and be for a moment in the here and now.