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Why hybrid teams need digital guardrails

5 practical strategies to manage technology
Blog 196 Hybrid teams digital strategies

During the pandemic, we’ve seen rapid transformation in where, when and how we work with dispersed teams and an increasing reliance on digital technologies. In fact, recent data from the Future Forum Pulse reports that 93 per cent of employees want flexibility when they work and 76 per cent want flexibility where they work.

Hybrid work arrangements have brought a range of benefits, including a better work-life blend, less commuting, and dedicated time to concentrate on focused work. However, hybrid work also poses new challenges, such as, an increase to our ‘digital load’, concerns with digital burnout, an ‘always-on’ culture, and an inability to segregate our professional and personal lives.

This digital load has increased due to reliance on technologies to augment and facilitate tasks that were once performed in an office. Formal and informal meetings, water-cooler conversations and presentations have been ‘digitised’ as we’ve tried to replicate traditional ways of working. These work activities are occurring both ‘synchronously’ (virtual meetings, phone calls) and ‘asynchronously’ (digital chats, emails and messages) adding to this digital load. This is why people are feeling digitally depleted. Many employees lament the fact that they now spend their days bouncing between emails, digital chats and virtual meetings. The potential productivity gains that hybrid work can offer is under threat from the barrage of digital distractions vying for employees’ attention.

It can’t be assumed that employees will know how to work productively in a hybrid capacity. Nor can it be assumed that teams will communicate, collaborate and work efficiently with the plethora of digital tools demanding and diverting their attention. These are skills that require explicit instruction, which should be complemented by guiding principles that clearly specify how digital technologies and tools can be best utilised.

In order to reap the benefits of hybrid work, organisations need to clearly articulate their ‘digital guardrails’. These are the behaviours, norms and practices that support the digital ways of working in a hybrid context. Organisations such as Telstra, Officeworks, Challenger and Ernst & Young are leading the way by introducing work practices that support digital wellbeing and alleviate the symptoms of digital burnout – by encouraging employees to change the ways they use technology.

Practical digital guardrails you can establish
If you’re someone who’s feeling that your current way of working isn’t sustainable, here are five practical strategies for you:

  1. Manage ‘tech-pectations’ – Include a note in your email signature, articulating your response rate, such as, ‘I check my emails at two intervals each day and will endeavour to reply within 24 hours (Mon–Fri). If your email requires my urgent attention, please call me …’ This way you clearly manage other people’s tech-pectations.
  2. Create a communication plan – If a critical or urgent task warrants an immediate response or action, clearly identify how and when this’ll take place within your team. This stops employees from compulsively checking their correspondence.
  3. Set meeting standards – Given that we know fatigue sets in during virtual meetings around the 30–40-minute mark – can you set your virtual meetings to a 30-minute default? If longer meetings are required, can you factor in break times? Clearly articulating these norms removes ambiguity and optimises performance and wellbeing.
  4. Establish the norm to ‘switch off’ – A ‘digital dash’ is where you undertake deep, focused work in a specified period of time (our body experiences ultradian rhythms where our energy peaks and troughs roughly every 90 minutes). Research has shown that interruptions impact our performance, with some workers taking an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to reorient their attention after a distraction – a phenomenon known as the ‘resumption lag’.
  5. Articulate response rates – As a team, determine how quickly you need to reply to internal and external requests. This empowers employees to switch off when undertaking focused work and stops digital distractions from denting productivity.

I highly recommend the book Digital body language, which explores digital communication practices in more detail.

Who is Dr Kristy Goodwin?
Having personally experienced how our ‘always-on’ digital culture is compromising people’s wellbeing and is counter to optimal and sustainable performance, award-winning researcher and speaker Dr Kristy Goodwin is on a mission to promote employee wellbeing and bolster workplace productivity in an always-on digital world.

As one of Australia’s digital wellbeing and productivity experts, she shares practical brain-based hacks to tame tech habits, and the latest evidence-based strategies to decode the neurobiology of peak performance in the technological era.

Senior business leaders and HR executives from the country’s top organisations engage Dr Kristy to help them promote employee digital wellbeing and performance. Her roster of clients includes Apple, Westpac, Deutsche Bank, Bank of Queensland, DLA Piper, Macquarie Bank, Westfield, Randstad, the Reserve Bank of Australia, NSW Health, Cuscal, State Street, National Broadband Network.

You can find out more about Dr Kristy here.

– The Coach Place Global

Image by @craiggarner

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