Cyber Tips

Are we facing ‘digital overload’?

More than a year into the pandemic, many of us and our colleagues are ‘plugged to our screens’ everyday. Is this leading to a ‘digital overload’ in our industry?

“Another evening of staring at the big screen while scrolling through my little screen so as to reward myself for staring at the medium-sized screen all day.” This is a tweet that could have been written by any one of us.

Our brains aren’t wired to look at a flat image of a person on a grid all day.

Is all this plugged-in time creating a cognitive load that’s too tough on our brains? Your screen is right there in front of you, all the time. Also, we’re pinging colleagues more with chats, sending more emails and scheduling more meetings to replace the casual interactions we used to have, leaning over a desk to ask a question.

Sometimes I feel like we are becoming parts in a digital factory.

Reducing our digital overload problem is not just about tweaking usage of video-meeting platforms. It helps, but I wonder if you agree that the real problem is we’re trying to replicate our old work patterns in a radically new at-home environment.

We need new habits and new practices. Instead of us and our colleagues becoming “parts in a digital factory”, we should be building a new culture more attuned to professional sports teams rather than a conveyor belt. The little I know about sports professionals is that they have intense sessions of activity (work), then recovery. And the recovery is just as important.

There are some short-term fixes that can help alleviate this digital intensity, but the issue is also driving a larger conversation about what our jobs should look like in a whole new world of work.

Short-term fixes – take more time-outs

The good news is that something as simple as a 10-minute break, if used correctly, can help reduce the risk of a digital overload. Breaking up long stretches of meetings or on-screen work can help reduce the digital overload build-up.

If you give yourself a break, and do something like going for a walk, doodling, even grabbing a cup of tea. After the break, you’ll be more engaged and focused. Taking breaks lets you reset, and maintain better brain health.

Meetings have been broken for a long time… why should we replicate that in the virtual world?

Finding new ways to connect with our colleagues, and reducing the number of daily meetings, emails and virtual check-ins will do more than lessen the digital load. It will also pave the way for a reinvented workplace, which most expect to be a hybrid of old and new.

After a few weeks of daily pulse checks calls, our team decided that daily check-ins were too much. We’ve now cut them back to three times a week. We’ve also capped all meetings to 30 minutes. Any longer, we end up sneaking looks at incoming emails which is a whole other cognitive-overload issue. We also use the phone a ton more to save on long emails.

I don’t think our industry has been this demanding in my career. The digital overload makes everyday that much more intense. To continue to attract talent and retain our All-Stars, we should look at every process and ask: why are we doing this? Is there a way to do this more effectively? Let’s not replicate what we’ve always done and just do it virtually. Let’s figure out how to do it better.

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