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5 tips to help you reduce your employees’ digital intensity

It’s fair to say that screens have consumed almost all aspects of our lives due to the rise of digital technology and the COVID-19 pandemic. Slack pings have replaced break room chats at work, Skype calls have replaced meeting a friend for coffee, and Netflix is always there to keep us entertained during a lockdown. But let’s zoom (no pun intended) in on work: employees are not just relying more on digital communication tools, but they’re also working more.

Whilst the COVID-19 situation is gradually improving, the reality is that remote working (at least in some form) may be here to stay, and so are the impacts of ‘digital intensity’. Let’s delve further into this Pacific Prime UK article – as we quickly touch upon what is digital intensity and how will digital intensity affect your company, before providing 5 tips to help you reduce your employees’ digital intensity.

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What is digital intensity?

On average, employees are spending a whopping 148% more time in weekly team meetings, as well as sending 42% more chats after hours and 200% more chats on weekends, according to a survey by Microsoft, which tracked the habits of more than 30,000 users in 31 countries over the last year. This plugged-in time is leading to a cognitive load that’s incredibly tough or, in other words, to a phenomenon known as ‘digital intensity’.

How will digital intensity affect your company?

Digital intensity can make employees feel overwhelmed, which invariably affects their ability to work effectively. In the long run, workplace stress, anxiety and exhaustion can accumulate, leading to a number of mental and physical health problems. Not only is this detrimental to your employees’ wellbeing, but it’ll also increase their absenteeism and presenteeism in the workplace. In other words, their productivity levels fall and your operating costs increase.

5 tips to help you reduce your employees’ digital intensity

Now that we’ve wrapped our heads around the meaning of digital intensity and the impacts of digital intensity on companies, here are 5 tips to help you reduce your employees’ digital intensity:

1. Reassess how you communicate, and work out if a meeting is really necessary

Employees’ workdays are typically broken down into casual office chats, in-person meetings, deep work, lunch breaks, as well as their morning and evening commutes. However, remote working disrupts this normal workflow, replacing an employees’ entire workday with various digital tools. Switching between them is already mentally taxing and digitally intense, and throwing constant virtual team meetings into the mix doesn’t help.

Video meetings are especially tough on employees because their brains try to process each participant individually and absorb visual clues, leaving them overwhelmed before they can even focus on the meeting’s agenda. The more video meetings they have, the harder it is on them – and the science proves it. Individuals who had a day of meetings tend to produce more beta waves, which are a sign of the brain being hard at work.

One solution is to limit the number of video meetings employees feel obliged to take part in. It starts by reassessing how your company communicates, and whether some video meetings that you currently have are unnecessary or are simply instances of micromanaging (a sign of virtual workplace toxicity). Chances are you’ll find that many of the meetings can be replaced by a memo – especially the longer meetings with only one speaker and multiple listeners.

Bonus pointer: When you need to have meetings, you can look into functions on video conferencing tools like ‘together mode’ on Microsoft Teams or ‘immersive scenes’ on Zoom, where participants are put on a shared background. They can help reduce some of the subconscious processing time taking up participant’s cognitive space.

2. Say no to the ‘always on’ work culture that has plagued our times

Overworking is a real problem for many employees – especially remote employees, as they’ve got all their work devices in front of them – 24/7. What’s more, they don’t have the physical separation between ‘work’ and ‘home’, which makes it harder for them to switch off at the end of the workday. To top it off, they are bombarded with emails and meeting requests to replace all in-person interactions which exacerbates the digital intensity issue.

That being said, a lot of these unhealthy work patterns go beyond remote working. The advent of smartphones and push notifications has meant that employees can always check and respond to their work emails – no matter where they are, or what they are doing. This is known as the ‘always on’ work culture, which we talked about at length in our Global Employee Benefits Trends Report 2020.

To tackle these issues, organizations need to set expectations for employees, and establish that they’re not required to respond to emails outside of their working hours. This policy needs to be clearly and directly communicated to ensure the message gets across, especially to the employees who seem like they may be overworking, such as by saying: “You are not expected to answer that email at 03:00 am”.

3. 10-minute breaks can do wonders: Encourage your employees to take regular breaks

If you’re looking for a quick fix to help your employees reduce their digital intensity, then the good news is that there are plenty of ways to do so – chief of them being simple 10-minute breaks every hour or so. Encourage your employees to break up their work day by doing something relaxing like meditation, stretching, doodling or anything that’s not looking at a screen.

Employees may be reluctant to take breaks or feel like it’s impossible to do so if they’ve got an overwhelming workload. On the contrary, taking breaks is even more important when employees have a lot on their plate because it helps them relax and come back to work re-energized. This can actually increase their productivity levels.

Other ways to incorporate this 10-minute break idea into employee’s workdays is to encourage them to:

  • Fake commuting at the start/end of their workdays
  • Take the full hour lunch break
  • Avoid eating their lunch at their desk or in front of a screen
  • And more!

4. The world of work is changing: Help your employees find new, better work patterns

While quick fixes can be incredibly helpful, it’s always better to solve the issue at the root. Employers need to understand that the crux of the matter is that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted (and continues to disrupt) the world of work. In this light, simply trying to replicate old work patterns will clearly not work, and it’s important to come up with new and innovative ways of working.

This starts with an organisational shift in mindset. Don’t view employees as robots on a production line, but view them as human beings – those who need rest and recovery, in order to realize their full capacity. Trust them to get their work done, and measure work by quality and not by the hours clocked in. But, of course, a shift in mindset can’t occur overnight.

As such you should thoroughly consider every process, and ask yourselves the reason why you do it and brainstorming ways to do it more effectively. This will enable you to become an industry leader by reinventing the post-pandemic workplace – one that experts predict will see elements of remote and in-person working or hybrid working – and help your employees lessen their digital load.

5. Recognize the effects of digital intensity, and offer employee assistance programs (EAPs) and group health insurance

Despite your best efforts, employees may still struggle with digital intensity. In which case, it’s important to recognise the effects that digital intensity can have on an employee’s mental and physical health, as well as their work performance. In response, you should ensure that you have the necessary support services for employees. This includes employee assistance programs (EAPs) and group health insurance, amongst others.

Looking to offer employee benefits? You’ve come to the right place. With over two decades of experience in the corporate health insurance and employee benefits sector, Pacific Prime UK has the knowledge and expertise necessary to advise your organisation, and help you implement tailored solutions that meet your exact needs and budgets. What’s more, we also use industry-leading technology to streamline the entire plan administration process.

Get in touch with our corporate team today!

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