Written by Jason O’Brien for Training Journal
The introduction of digital technologies into the workplace has brought with it a number of advantages. Businesses have solutions to improve productivity and reduce expenditure. Employees have greater flexibility and better tools to do their job.
However, the evidence suggests there are some downsides to the amount of technology we use in the workplace. Although it might seem counter-intuitive, sometimes limiting the amount of technology employees use can actually increase their productivity. Limits on tech can prevent fatigue and help staff avoid procrastination so they are worth taking a look at.
Tech affects our mental state
Technology may make our professional lives easier, but studies have been conducted that suggest it doesn’t make us healthier. Take this 2015 study of college students, published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. It shows the link between smartphone addiction and negative physiological and psychological symptoms including increased blood pressure and anxiety.
In 2012, the University of Gothenburg’s research into smartphone and computer usage found that excessive use is linked to stress, sleep disorders and depressive symptoms. If users undertake excessive use of both smartphones and computers, the risk of these symptoms is heightened.
Affecting everything from attention spans to creativity, use of technology affects our ability to get a good night’s sleep. This in turn affects a business’s bottom line.
Sleep is the real issue that underpins the negative aspects of technology use. Affecting everything from attention spans to creativity, use of technology affects our ability to get a good night’s sleep. This in turn affects a business’s bottom line.
A 2016 study from Hult International Business School showed that a lack of sleep costs organisations $2,280 a year for every sleep-deprived employee. Without enough rest, the ability of staff to communicate effectively and problem solve is lowered – costing businesses money.
Help employees reduce usage
To combat the detrimental effects technology brings to the workplace, organisations are adopting the ‘Digital Detox’, an initiative that looks to reduce the level of exposure employees have to technology both in and out of the office.
For office-based workers, a computer is a necessary part of the job, but it means employees can clock up 30-hours screen time a week just at work. To bring this down, you could implement some of these work policies:
In the office
Given all the distractions the internet provides us, it’s all too easy for staff to stay seated at lunchtime and use their computer for entertainment. To encourage people to get a break from the computer screen, you could organise recreational lunchtime events, particularly around exercise.
Put on a yoga class or find a local gym that could offer discounted rates to your staff – anything that gets people engaged and active. Exercise has been demonstrated to improve our ability to shift and focus attention. An active mind will help staff return from lunch ready to refocus on the afternoon’s tasks.
Communication tools and applications make it easy to chat to colleagues no matter your or their location – but as a result, face-to-face interaction has become a bit of a lost art. Meetings are a great opportunity to ditch digital communications and rediscover vocal interchanges.
Adopt a meeting or two each week that specifically sets out a no-tech policy.
Inadequate communication between employees reportedly costs large businesses $62.4m a year. Communicating over digital channels like email doesn’t allow for facial gestures and tone of voice, making misinterpretation common. Encourage personal, face-to-face communication to minimise these effects and grow your team’s interpersonal skills.
Out of the office
Encourage a ‘leave in the office’ policy
Given the impact technology has on our stress levels and sleep patterns, organisations should look to minimise the level at which employees take their work home with them. Some office cultures expect this of their employees despite evidence suggesting it’s likely to have a negative impact on productivity in the long-term.
You might not want to go as far as France, who have enshrined in law the right to avoid checking work email out of hours, but encourage staff not to engage in too much work activity in their own time. The blue light emitted from our smartphones and computers suppresses melatonin, the hormone that controls our sleep cycles.
Given the effect poor sleep patterns have on productivity, the more you allow your employees to switch off at home the more they will be able to focus when in the office.
Improve employee sleep to improve employee focus
A good night’s sleep is the key to having an engaged, focused and happy workforce. Too much exposure to technology makes it more difficult for us to achieve this – either through negative psychological symptoms like increased anxiety or stress or by suppressing the hormones we need for better sleep.
But organisations can help. Adopt a Digital Detox policy and help reduce the things that cost your employees valuable sleep. The result could see your company’s productivity increase.