We use technology more than ever, but do we actually know how to? 

Even before the pandemic, digital technology was prevailing both on and off work as a top choice for communication, work and entertainment. With the limited possibilities of face-to-face interactions during 2020 and 2021, internet connectivity and screen devices became a lifeline for many of us.  With the endless opportunities however, we are also starting to see the dark side of an overindulgence that is bringing technostress, constant connectivity, distractions causing decreased focus and productivity, disturbed sleep, and decreased mental and physical wellbeing. 

This is obvious in relation to work as well. Not only do we struggle to focus at work with all technology distractions, but also outside of work:

86% of people are struggling to switch off from technology out of working hours.

CIPD 2020

While most organisations support staff in learning the functionalities of emerging technologies (who hasn’t attended a MS 365 or Zoom tutorial!), few incorporate a structured approach to teach when to use it and how to use it in a sustainable and healthy way.

We were taught how to install the email app on our phone, but not told when to switch notifications off. We were taught how Excel could make us more efficient, but not how ‘multitasking’ drains our energy and focus. Perhaps you recognise the feeling of struggling to get attention in meetings (online or in person) because no one taught us when to use and not use our smartphones.

So what can we do about it?

Disconnect or not?

There is a growing trend, sometimes driven by legislation, to incorporate a right to disconnect. This is spot on for some, while seemingly unattainable by others. Wherever you are on that scale, here are three steps that you can take to start addressing the challenge of constant connectivity and technology stress. These can be used both as an individual and organisation. The examples are real although quite simplified, but you get the point!

  1. Identify the challenges. 

Organisation: Run a survey or interview staff to understand how they feel around their technology use.

Example from a company: Staff feel under pressure to answer emails out of working hours. 

Individual: Reflect on your own technology use and feelings associated with it.

Example for myself: I get tightness in my arm and pain in my thumb when I work longer periods of time. 

  1. Set a vision and identify gaps. 

Organisation: Which areas are a priority to improve? What is the desired state? What is a reasonable aim for the next survey or interview round?

Example from a company: We want employees to be able to relax properly outside of working hours. 

Individual: How do you want to change your current situation? Which of your current habits are more stressful than value adding?

Example for myself: I want to be able to do computer work without physical strain. 

  1. Take action

Start with small steps, a key to sustainable change. Which actions will lead you from the current state identified in step 1 to the desired state identified in step 2?

Here are a few hacks and simple policy considerations that will support tech-life balance: 

  • Implement strict and regular breaks from technology during the day
  • Set clear expectations around of out of working hours availability
  • Set clear expectations on responsiveness on email and phone
  • Implement clear structures on communication channels to enable proper switching off. E.g. for high priority matters we always call, that way employees can feel safe to switch off from checking emails every few minutes. 
  • Encourage walking meetings both online and in person
  • Turn off email notifications
  • Turn off self-view in video meetings
  • Phone Free desks

Example from a company: We encourage staff to turn off email notifications and not to check in on emails after work. We recommend activating an out of office reply daily from 5pm to give our staff peace of mind. Staff and leaders alike are encouraged not to send emails after 5pm, and to call in case of a situation requiring immediate response. 

Example for myself: Get a proper keyboard, take regular breaks, and do stretch exercises. 

I hope you found this article helpful, how do you switch off and how does your organisation work with this?