‘I just need to get through to Christmas’
‘It’s been a really long year’
‘I’m ready for this year to end’.
‘Let’s look at that in the next quarter and focus on closing out this one’.
‘I can’t do another Zoom meeting’
If you’ve heard any of these phrases coming from your team lately, it’s time to take a closer look. Whilst we’ve successfully navigated another year of lockdowns by embracing hybrid and remote work, these new technologies, routines and ways of working can take their toll on your people.
Protecting the digital wellbeing of your team and ensuring rest and disconnection over the break is a crucial part of the equation in preventing digital burnout, employee dissatisfaction and mass resignation.
In this article, I highlight the importance of Digital Guardrails for your team, how to ensure your people get the digital reset they need over the upcoming break and how, by implementing and articulating boundaries and rituals around technology and communication you can help ensure wellbeing and retention.
RECAP: WHAT ARE DIGITAL GUARDRAILS?
Whilst we’ve embraced remote work and the digital tools required to the point where in some cases we are even more productive than before the pandemic, the boundaries between our home lives and work lives have all but disappeared. This means, given our access to technology, we often feel the need to be available 24/7. We are constantly bombarded with notifications, emails and dings that not only interrupt our deep focus, but leave us feeling digitally depleted.
Digital guardrails are guidelines, set, articulated (and enforced) by organisations that outline sustainable digital practices for your team in a hybrid work environment. This can involve everything from online hours, when (and when not to) reply to emails, hours of meeting free time per day and batching notifications. This gives your people permission to disconnect from technology to allow themselves the rest they need to avoid these tech-related stressors like zoom fatigue, digital depletion and burnout.
WHY DO WE NEED THEM?
A digitally depleted workforce has serious consequences for both employee wellbeing and employers bottom line.
The Great Resignation
According to recent research conducted by productivity tool Slack, more than half of knowledge workers globally are open to looking for a new job in the next year, and 70% aren’t satisfied with the level of flexibility in their current role. This is being termed ‘The Great Resignation’ and here in Australia, we are beginning to feel the effects. According to the Future Forum report, 60 percent of our knowledge workers are looking for a new job, and with flexible working proving that roles can be done remotely, employees are more empowered than ever when it comes to designing their ideal ways of working.
Digital distraction and productivity
The biggest downside of working remotely is the ongoing distractions our tech tools provide. In fact, knowledge workers lose 581 hours of time annually to distraction, which translates to 28% of each knowledge worker’s salary.
With constant notifications from email, Teams chats, productivity tools and online meetings it’s no wonder we are struggling to concentrate. In fact, science shows that on average, we are interrupted from our deep work (work that requires significant concentration) every six minutes. The biggest issue here? It takes around 23 minutes to regain deep focus lost by digital distractions. Research shows that applying neuro-productivity principles to manage these distractions could result in $1.2trillion in untapped employee output.
We all feel a little mentally drained after a long day of being online. But there are knock-on effects that impact both physical and emotional wellbeing. A recent study from recruitment platform Indeed found that remote working was a large contributor to the rise of burnout in key stakeholder groups due in part to workers putting in extra hours and feeling unable to digitally disconnect from the office. Over 52% of respondents reported feeling burned out, symptoms of which included difficulty concentrating, headaches and fatigue and 27% reported feeling unable to disconnect from work.
IMPLEMENTING THE GUARDRAILS
With the consequences of digital depletion and burnout significant for employee wellbeing and employers commercially, the implementation of Digital Guardrails is crucial in ensuring the health of your people moving forward.
- Talk about it – it’s one thing to have digital guardrails documented, but it’s another to make sure you are talking about it. Articulation and enforcement of digital guardrails are a crucial part of normalising your organisation’s approach to the guiding principles of online work and the proactive steps you’re taking protecting the mental, and physical energy of your people.
- Walk the walk – this involves changing the very fabric of the organisation to ensure routines and rituals are enforced and supported. The culture of being online and available 24/7 needs to be discouraged and clear parameters about communication need to be set but more importantly, articulated and enforced.
- Prevention – whilst we applaud the introduction of rest days and mental health days, it’s important to look deeper and consider the causes and future implications. Whilst introducing policies like an extra day of leave for employee mental health is a great start, it’s the guardrails that will stop burning out before it becomes digital burnout. If you people feel they have permission to disconnect thanks to the clear guiding principles that are articulated and enforced, your organisation moves from a reactive state to a program of prevention.
- Make rest a responsibility– as we approach the end of a challenging year encompassing everything from hundreds of days of collective lockdowns to ongoing rapid societal and organisational change, it’s important to ensure your people have the opportunity to reset over the Christmas break to replenish their reserves for next year. Normalise disconnecting from all digital communications and implement an emergency policy over text message or phone call if your business requires it. As leaders, it’s your responsibility to ensure your people are getting adequate rest for