The on-going pandemic has transformed the way that people work and shifted the focus & interest in harnessing technology (in its many forms) to ensure that we keep working and moving, regardless of the fact that we have had to completely cancel physical interactions. Platforms like Zoom, Skype and Microsoft Teams have finally received the traffic that they have been waiting for over the years, as they have become a necessity. Meetings and collaborations have moved on to such platforms and even conferences and seminars are being hosted on different digital platforms designed for their incoming traffic. This has proved to be an advantage for many businesses and freelancers, as they were able to accommodate a larger base than they probably would have had in a physical location.
Image via insights.dice.com
In the grand scheme of things, this digital migration seems largely positive. Many people have expressed their happiness that employers -especially large corporations- are understanding the impact of the change of work environments leading to stressful hours & affecting people’s well-being. In the United States, a study done in March 2020 revealed that at least 74% of CFOs and business leaders think 5% of jobs might become permanently remote -even when it was first thought of as impossible. After months of remote work, many business leaders and employees may be rethinking remote work’s long-term viability. Although it is great to remain positive, it is also key that we highlight the negatives that come along with this new reality. The emphasis now is on the importance of creating a transformed, ideal work environment for the post-COVID-19 future, tackling the short-falls of remote work.
One such short-fall is techno-exhaustion or technostress, which is the negative psychological effect of humans’ constant interaction with and overuse of technological devices. There are high levels of techno-exhaustion in the world today, because the shift in reliance on technology as our main source of communication and connection means that we are always holding, using, entertaining and accessing some form of electronic device. This is applicable to our use of phones, tablets, computers, printers and large screens. The need to stay in communication with team members, departments, projects and peers means that you are constantly on voice and video calls to keep the discussion going. This is more visible in the case of business owners and senior executives in large corporations and continental/regional organizations who also have to interact across several time zones.
I would like to focus on a few of the challenges that have been brought up by technostress and the importance of ensuring that they are addressed:
1) Health: Health is wealth; it is a known fact, but we must realize that we need it now more than ever as we battle a global health crisis i.e. the COVID-19 pandemic. Constantly having access to electronic devices means that your eyes are repetitively being positioned in front of bright screens over an extended period of time. This also means that your ears are being exposed to countless hours of headphones, air-pods and speakers, which are not recommended for long periods of time.
2) Concentration and productivity: Concentration is divided and productivity levels have shifted to sway more on the low side for many at the moment. The ability to access the office meant that one was able to have space where they could dedicate a certain amount of time to the required tasks without unnecessary interference from others. Knowing that the people who are with us at the office have more or less similar tasks made it a considerably safe space where our productivity could thrive.
Illustration by Adhiti Bandlamudi for WUNC
3) Lack of Privacy: Having to spend most of the day online whether its team meetings, webinars, planning, strategizing or multi-tasking means that one is not able to have time to themselves. This is quite over-bearing and can lead to high levels of stress.
4) Offline Hours: Having a routine system with fixed working hours helped tremendously in the smooth operations of office environments. It made it clear that the individual will not be available and is not obligated to respond past the designated working hours. It is important to highlight this because for some reason, there are people who now have an understanding that they should be able to access others at any given time because everybody is home. Not only is this invasive of people’s personal time off, it is extremely unhealthy and inconsiderate.
5) Boundaries: Boundaries have been blurred because most people are working from home, it feels like there are no longer any boundaries. Colleagues, friends and strangers are able to see your home (even if through a screen), and personal and private spaces where your family and children are. In normal circumstances, spaces like this are kept private and revealing them was a voluntary choice
It is important that we remain aware and reflect within ourselves to understand how our bodies work and how far we can stretch them without causing any kind of damage (mentally, emotionally and physically). This is important to us as individuals, but it also requires leaders, employers, colleagues and others to understand the pressure of wanting to stay on top of our jobs and deliver great results, while simultaneously going through a very difficult & disruptive global pandemic. I believe that regardless of the situation with COVID-19 and how it pans out, we must investigate and re-shape working environments to ensure exemplary levels of productivity and deliverables, while simultaneously protecting the mental and physical health of the employees.
Technology has transformed way beyond our imagination. These days, there is an application for everything and simpler ways to do things, but we must also acknowledge that our uncontrolled and undisciplined attachment to our electronics has some negative impacts. To anyone feeling techno-stressed, I recommend you focus on prioritizing and strategizing your time and energy. This includes finding ways to optimize tasks, setting realistic and smart workloads & deadlines, and learning how to say yes/no appropriately. The work will still continue when you are out sick or if you take time off, so take care of yourself. Techno-exhaustion is real and although we cannot entirely eliminate it, it’s important that we learn how to adapt and be realistic about the state of the world.