Employee wellbeing is front of mind at a time when technology use has significantly increased for many of us. Between work and social connection it can feel like we are glued to our screens. This can have an impact on wellbeing, productivity and job satisfaction. With over-consumption of technology linked to increases in anxiety, stress and sleep difficulties, addressing digital culture has become a vital part of wellbeing strategies.
The struggle to find a balance with technology is nothing new. A 2019 CIPD survey revealed 87% of professionals feel technology has a negative impact by leading to an inability to switch off outside of working hours. However, those boundaries between home and work have suddenly become less visible and harder to enforce. With two of us working from home, my husband’s office has become the dining room which means he walks past his laptop each day when going to and from the kitchen. Inevitably, the separation between home and work becomes more of a challenge.
As we know, having a sense of satisfaction from achieving important objectives each day is key to enjoying and thriving at work. Yet, being constantly connected can undermine our very capacity to achieve important goals each day.
The frequent distractions from our groaning inboxes and chirping mobiles lead to rapid switching between tasks and attempts to multitask, which research indicates can reduce productivity by as much as 40% . Our brains are in fact not able to multitask, instead what we are doing is task switching which divides our cognitive resource between the juggling priorities and means we can’t give our best to any individual one. By encouraging work practices and culture which facilitate unitatsking, teams can find a greater sense of ease and feel better as they can focus on their priorities and achieve more during the 9-5.
With an increased challenge to set those important boundaries between home and work and teams having to come to terms with new screen-time issues such as “Zoom exhaustion”, helping employees to create a healthy relationship with technology is a key part of supporting wellbeing during remote-working.
Whilst the statistics paint a gloomy picture, it also presents an opportunity for organisations to be forward thinking and provide employees with conditions for success, satisfaction and positive mental health.
Three steps you can take today are:
Plan a conversation with your team to understand how their personal digital habits and how your team’s digital culture is impacting them
Do your team feel an organisational pressure to be checking and responding to email out of hours? Are the number of emails, video calls or instant messages overwhelming or preventing focused work? How easy is it to create healthy boundaries between work and home? Mental health awareness week is a great platform for exploring these issues.
There is a difference between remote working before COVID-19 and remote working now in that many employees have not chosen this situation or been prepared for how to work effectively from home. I have found in conversations, many teams feel they have over-adopted video calls as a means of communication and this is having an impact, leaving employees feeling mentally exhausted.
The good thing is that there are many ways you can alleviate the issues such as over-use of video calls. Just a couple of examples include instilling a culture of 25 and 50 video calls, thereby avoiding those back to back marathons, and small tricks like hiding self-view so you’re not as distracted by your face on screen (which again uses up those cognitive resources and increases mental exhaustion!).
Uncovering the issues is the first step to being able to make the right changes for your team.
Consider providing guidelines to support a healthy team culture
If you want to reduce the pressure your team are feeling to read and respond to email outside of the working day, can you set a guideline that only critical email is sent outside of a certain timeframe (e.g. 8am – 6pm)?
Many are surprised at the personal options available such as ‘delaying delivery’ of email. If you do have to work late then send that email but let it arrive until the following morning. As a HR Director, you can set the example with this. One simple step, amongst many, to reduce the number of out-of-hours emails and create a healthier digital culture.
Often there can be unwritten rules within a team’s dynamic that become a culture over time. What are your team’s dynamics around email and out of hours working? For instance, many employees are talking to me during remote working about feeling a pressure to be visible online. They over-prioritise quick responses to email and instant messages to ‘prove’ they are working but end the day wondering what they have really achieved.
Consider introducing a ‘focused hour’ where your team are able to switch off from email, not be concerned about appearing offline and be able to focus on achieving the tasks that can really only be done effective in a state of deeper focus. You can set a particular time that the whole team can use for focused work. Or you can create a culture which understands the value of focused work and empowers employees with the confidence to schedule and communicate their own focused work hours
Explore digital wellbeing training
Digital wellbeing training is a valuable part of any organisational wellbeing strategy. Training gives your team the ability to see and change technology habits which get in the way of wellbeing and the achieving the things that matter each day.