The always-on world has checked us into iHotel California


By Amber Osborne, {grow} Contributing Columnist

Being a CMO and online marketer with a product based in social media management, I am guilty of falling into this vicious “always on” circle.

I don’t have a 9-5 job. Sometimes feel I have a 24/7 job! I’m notorious for scaring people with my response times to tweets, even in the middle of the night.

While I am proud of the service level my company provides, the expectations of customers — and even friends and loved ones — to be always there and reachable online creates a personal stress level that not many talk about.

What about the personal impact of “always on?”

I work in a startup in Seattle called Meshfire. The whole company is a team of four people. Even with this small size we feel we do a pretty good job of juggling customer support, emails, social media and our active online community of customers.

However, there are always those moments when an email goes unanswered, we miss a comment, or a customer support request gets misdirected. The last thing we want is to make someone feel like we aren’t there for them. Yes, that is the reality of business. Yes, that is very stressful.

At another company I was at years ago, we actually had a customer call our CEO at home in the middle of the night to wonder why we didn’t answer their tweet …

The tweet they sent twenty minutes ago …

No one was stuck on a plane in Albuquerque …

There wasn’t a zombie outbreak …

They really wanted to know if a purse came in mauve and they wanted to know it NOW.

And it’s getting worse

Edison Research shows that people expect an answer to an online inquiry within 60 minutes. Any time of day. And that expectation of a response time is decreasing.

People are being conditioned to expect instant gratification though online communications and while we can read all about the need to change and adopt, we very rarely read about the physical and mental toll it is taking on the people at the other end of the line.

It seems like the pressure of this always-on world has become more like Hotel California. We can check in anytime we like, but we can never leave.

I’ve woken up my significant other to the glow of my computer in the middle of the night while I fix a customer support request. I’ve also been guilty of answering customer tweets in the middle of holidays, events, and parties.

In a Harvard Business Review article, Michael Harris calls this the “ambient workload:”

“When we accept this new and permanent ambient workload — checking business news in bed or responding to coworkers’ emails during breakfast — we may believe that we are dedicated, tireless workers. But, actually, we’re mostly just getting the small, easy things done. Being busy does not equate to being effective.”

I recognized this in myself. Something had to change.

Leaving iHotel California

I’ve had to do a bit of retraining of my brain the last few months, with my work needing me to be online and available more …

  • When I go out with friends, I leave my phone at home … someone else can Instagram our experience if they want.
  • I’m putting a clock in my bedroom, so there’s no longer the temptation to check my phone when I wake up or in the middle of the night.
  • I check my mail in the morning, at lunch and in the evening. If it’s work related, I tell myself it’s okay if I let it go for a few more hours if it is not urgent or ask for help from others on my team.
  • I’m also looking into a virtual assistant to help with finding priority messages for work and personal accounts.

It’s been difficult to figure out how to check out of my iHotel California, but to survive I am slowly learning to accept that I can’t be available all the time, unless they figure out cloning soon.

I’m actually writing this on a plane right now with no wifi, no cellphones, nothing telling me I have tweets, emails or calendar notifications. In the last two weeks, I’ve been rarely checking my phone or computer during travel. It’s an amazing feeling to go from feeling “always on” to “in the moment.”

I still have to deal with a stack of unread emails, Facebook messages and Linkedin requests, but what I have realized is that I DON’T always have to be there for everyone online, I need to be there for myself, my company and my loved ones first.

Life is way too short to be typing it all away.

Are you having any success with your ambient workload?

Amber Osborneamber osbourne a.k.a @MissDestructo is the CMO at Meshfire, a social media management platform out of Seattle, WA. She’s worked previously in online marketing with clients ranging from bands to brands. Check out her adventures at

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