When we were working from our offices, we could return home at the end of the day and choose to disconnect from our work until the next morning. However, the sudden shift to working from home precipitated by the onset of the global pandemic has blurred the boundaries between work life and personal life.
Working from home: Always connected
Since we have been working from home, we find ourselves online on various devices for a major portion of the day. As a result, we are unconsciously unaware of the ill effects of always being connected to devices. Being online and in front of a screen for extended hours in a day has affected our physical and mental wellbeing.
Let us explore the concept of digital overload and how we can deal with it.
While working remotely does have several benefits, many employees tend to work late into the night, caught up in the hectic cycle of work deliverables.
A study conducted by the University of Essex found that employees working from home began to spend up to 30 percent more time at work. Although working hours increased, overall productivity fell significantly by almost 20 percent.
Pitfalls of working from home
The study found that productivity declined as a result of employees being engaged in different types of formal and informal meetings while working from home, primarily on videoconferencing.
Another reason for digital overload was that employees spent much less time working without interruption. The study also found that those employees who had children at home increased working hours more than those who did not have children at home.
All these factors contributed to a significant decrease in productivity.
Working from home has increased our screentime
The pandemic has helped us spend quality time with our family and at home. However, while working from home, our time spent on devices and in front of screens has increased. It is safe to say, therefore, that the pandemic has made us more dependent on our phones and computers, even to connect virtually with our social circles.
Employees favor working from home
Microsoft’s annual Work Trends Index showed that the usage of Microsoft Teams for weekly meetings had increased by 148 percent in 2020-21 in comparison to the previous year.
The report revealed that although 57 percent of employees in India felt overwhelmed, 74 percent of them were keen on working remotely.
Digital overload is real
The digital intensity of an employee’s workday has increased in the last year. 13 percent of the Indian workforce say their employer does not care about their work-life balance.
The time spent in Microsoft Teams meetings has grown 2.5 times globally and 62 percent of Teams calls and virtual meetings are unscheduled.
The future of work is hybrid
The future of work is hybrid with employees working from home for most of the week. Flexibility and hybrid work will define the post-pandemic workplace. While working from home has become the preferred way to work, employers must focus on fixing what has not worked well in the flexible work culture.
Dealing with digital overload
Here are some tips on how employers can help their employees deal with the digital overload. We must ask ourselves: how can we reimagine our home office spaces to promote a less stressful work environment?
Switch off the video
Being present on video conferencing calls can be physically draining for employees as they need to make an effort to listen and understand what their colleagues are saying in calls. A delay of as little as 1.2 seconds in call connectivity can make it look like a conference participant is less focused or distracted.
A work call mandates that an employee be present. It is not always necessary for them to be visible on camera throughout the call.
Employees can be encouraged to use a mobile version of the office meeting software. When it is not mandatory for the employee to be visible on video or to share a screen in the meeting, they can take these meeting calls as regular calls and not be present in front of a screen.
Wake up and forget all about your devices
Most of us check our phones and scroll through social media feeds as soon as we wake up every morning. We could all make an effort to reduce the time we spend on devices early in the morning.
A study conducted by automation platform Zapier in late 2020 required participants to not look at their phones or any other devices or screens from the time they woke up until they sat down to work. The study revealed that employees reported feeling more relaxed, less anxious, and more energetic throughout the day.
Create device-free zones
When working from home, employees can demarcate specific areas of their house where they will not use their phones, laptops, tablets, or any other electronic devices. These device-free zones can be the dining table or the balcony, and even the bedroom. These zones in the house encourage you to disconnect from the workplace. Short technology breaks can greatly improve your health and wellbeing.
No working lunches
Employers can help by introducing a simple “no working lunches or online lunch meetings” rule. This will give employees some personal time during lunch where they can disconnect from the pressures of the workday.
Introduce employee wellbeing initiatives
While employees may be hesitant to share concerns about being overworked, less productive, or disengaged, employers must make efforts to recognize if their workforce is being severely overburdened. They must introduce employee wellbeing initiatives to minimize the negative effects of digital overload. This will promote employee health and wellness, and create a more engaged remote work environment.