Modern technology has many benefits for the planner, one of which is the capacity to speed up communications within the team and with clients.
However, it can also have drawbacks, and one of these is that technology is often always with you in the planning office, on site and even at home. That is not always a good thing.
The benefits for anyone regardless of whether they work in the public or private sector to ‘switch off’ is rarely understood, especially on how it can affect career development. The work-life balance is a modern phrase, but is it healthy when on annual leave to have to ‘nip into the office’ to send a couple of emails to an enforcement officer or a development management colleague before jumping on the train to your holiday destination?
Is it healthy to feel the need to email someone from home at 11pm at night, especially after you've had a glass of wine, because that planning policy matter is playing on your mind? Is it healthy to sit at home reading the government Housing White Paper on the computer rather than enjoy the latest episode of Game of Thrones, one of which is complete escapist fantasy and all the better for it?
The answer to all these should be ‘no’. 'Switching off’ can have huge benefits to you, your peace of mind and even productivity when you step back into the office environment. Being all consumed by the needs of work, your clients and their inability to understand that you are entitled to some ‘down time’ can in fact have negative effects. It can damage your health, your home life, and your thinking. None of these are positive outcomes, and they are unlikely to make you the happier, healthier and more productive professional essential for advancing your career in planning.
In an effort to prevent burnout, some employers have gone as far as offer on-site 'break-out rooms' in which to relax while others provide meditation or yoga sessions. Some even encourage staff to unplug their smart devices. One car manufacturer, for example, offers software that automatically deletes employee emails while they are on annual leave. Time will tell whether planners adopt such technology.
But it is not easy to switch off, so sometimes it pays to exercise your own judgement rather than wait for protocols from above. I had a client last week take offence that I hadn’t responded by text to a message he'd sent two hours earlier about the progress of a planning matter. At the time I was standing in a queue for the London Aquarium, and told him so. Sometimes, and in the interests of not just peace of mind but professional longevity and career development, you just have to say to yourself ‘no I won't jump to attention. I am not working today’.
Chris Weetman is an independent planning consultant, an associate of Trevor Roberts Associates and a former head of planning