– Comms Unplugged – a digital detox –

by Mo Sanders from Fresh Air Fridays

Mo leads a walk CU19With slight trepidation and great anticipation I packed my things for Comms Unplugged 2019, including a tent which I had not used for almost a decade. I arrived in a field in Dorset on a warm, Thursday afternoon in early September without really knowing what to expect. Beside an old pine tree, three large white marquees were ready and waiting in one corner of the field. On the opposite side of the field was an increasing number of tents and campervans belonging to the “Unpluggers” – delegates, sponsors and speakers.

Walking across the grass to register, I again wondered to myself if I would fit it. Old insecurities rattled around my head, triggered because am not from this comms world (I was there as a session leader). Deep down I trusted that the ethos of the event, which is all about wellbeing and being outdoors, would be enough. And it was. In moments my apprehension faded (and disappeared completely once my tent was up!). I felt instantly accepted and part of something special.

The welcome address by Sally, Georgia and Darren created a sense of belonging and connection that I had already begun to feel, and them saying it aloud made it tangible. The five steps to wellbeing were firmly embedded throughout the whole event; connect, learn, take notice, be active and give. Each step made real and achievable, a refreshing change from the lip-service often paid.

Being technologically unconnected, proved to be a profound experience for me. Not only was I more present because I was not on social media or checking emails, but crucially those around me were more present too. This shared availability, and yes at times vulnerability, was powerful. The void left by disconnected WiFi, and detachment from the outside world, meant greater connection with those in our immediate surroundings.Listening unpluggers at CU19

The quality of the conversations was remarkable. The attention during the speeches and workshops was extraordinary. Removing external distractions created opportunities to connect, not only with others but also with ourselves. The radio silence made space for our internal thoughts and feelings to emerge, allowing the things that needed to surface to do so. Those things may not have been work related, but most probably were impacting on our working lives. Shifting that stuff therefore results in improved engagement and productivity.

Workplace wellbeing needs to view individuals as a whole – we don’t just leave ourselves at the door when we turn up at work. Whatever is going on for us, in a personal or professional sense, will impact across all areas of our lives. The sooner employers truly understand that, the better.

As an Unplugger I witnessed first-hand how technology is a barrier to simple human connection. However impracticable it may seem, my take-away from this remarkable event is to “unplug” more regularly. As a society we are in danger of being so over-connected, that we disconnect from those closest to us, and Comms Unplugged is a rare and welcome antidote.

Morwenna Sanders is a Fresh Air Fridays facilitator and first-time unplugger in 2019. She and Saranne Postans ran this year’s mindful walks. Fresh Air Fridays have been sponsors and activity leads at Comms Unplugged since 2017. Find out more about their work on their website: www.freshairfridays.co.uk