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ICTs in the Workplace: Understanding Techno-stress and Its Solutions

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Image Source: energepiccom | Pexels

Technology shapes patterns of human activity in every aspect of life. Undoubtedly, the transformative impact of digital technology requires individuals, businesses, and organizations to constantly adapt to new systems and applications to use them effectively and mitigate risks related to techno-stress creators.

Digital Technologies in the Professional Environment

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are essential to the workplace. Organizations are dependent on digital technology. Work-related use of ICTs offers a myriad of benefits to organizations, provides organizations with opportunities to optimize business processes, improves efficiency and productivity, reduces costs, shapes the patterns of information processing and innovation patterns, and assists a wide range of online services.

Moreover, work-related usage of ICTs can positively impact job performance and virtual team effectiveness. ICTs provide continuous connectivity. Colleagues can easily communicate without restraints of location and time. In parallel with the advances in ICTs, telecommuting has become increasingly prevalent around the world. Consequently, not having to commute has reduced the costs and time spent in traveling.

The impact of digital technology in professional environments on work practices and habits manifests in work performance, how employees connect, and how they think and act. Despite numerous advantages created by the effective use of ICTs, there can also be challenges and negative outcomes. The human brain’s cognitive performance and attentional behaviors are affected by being exposed to information technologies.

Challenges

ICT-induced challenges in professional environments are referred to as techno-stressors. Being constantly available and techno-overload can cause techno-stress, and they are usually associated with the work-related use of ICTs.

Advances in ICTs allow for constant connectivity and work independent of time and location. In this context, employees may find separating work and non-work life difficult. Techno-invasion due to work-related ICTs after working hours makes employees vulnerable elevated levels of work stress, diminished work performance, and life invasion. Additionally, always-on work culture and constant connectivity make employees feel forced to be available and easily reached via e-mail, the Internet, or mobile devices. Consequently, employees tend to work longer due to ICTS-induced expectations for faster response and dealing with multiple tasks simultaneously.

Techno-overload occurs when employees get occupied with too many different tasks simultaneously or are constantly interrupted by ICT applications. As a result, they may feel obliged to work faster and more due to increasing demands and expectations.

The impact of digital technology on attentional behaviors steams from its design. Through the multi-windows design, users can navigate through several folders, documents, programs, and browser tabs that are simultaneously open. This multi-windows design translates into switching attention between multiple activities in a short period. In other words, technology-induced multitasking results in attentional switching.

Similarly, due to mobile devices and collaborative workspace chat and videoconferencing applications, employees face a multitude of interruptions and streams of real-time information that may foster information overload and fragmentation of attention, making maintaining attention on the task at hand difficult.

The main problems associated with techno-stressors include leading to attentional and cognitive deficits, provoking anxiety, fatigue, and low performance.

Virtual Meeting Fatigue

As a new popular term, Zoom fatigue has become widely used to describe emotional, psychological, and physical lack of energy resulting from spending too much time in front of screens while video conferencing. Video conferencing fatigue appears to be the new form of techno-stress underlining challenges in adaptation to modern technologies due to overutilization of technology and lack of healthy coping strategies with techno stressors and ICT-induced demands.

There is a set of factors contributing to Zoom fatigue: video conferencing involves different ways of communication with prolonged eye contact, limited non-verbal cues and body gestures, and difficulty in focusing during discussions, and additional cognitive load. Moreover, asynchronicity of communication is listed among contributing factors that lead to increased cognitive efforts, frustration, and stress.

Although advances in ICTs provide organizations with instruments to increase productivity by saving time and energy, studies suggest that overuse of ICTs results in more than  25% of the general working population suffering from fatigue and emotional exhaustion.

Techno-stress leads to lower work performance and productivity, reduced job satisfaction, and organizational commitment. To mitigate such undesired consequences, businesses search for solutions to ease techno-stress. An increasing number of organizations recognize that employee well-being is crucial to high performance and thus integrate well-being initiatives into their work.

Finite Resources

People’s time and attention are finite resources. ICTs can increase productivity in the short term. However, such gains can be undermined by increased cognitive load and lower productivity, performance, and well-being in the long term.

At an individual level, some of the strategies that can be applied to mitigate the overwhelming side effects of excessive ICT use are practicing strategic attention n order to reduce loss of time and the fragmentation of attention; prioritizing urgent communications and postponing less relevant communications; and utilizing applications to organize information storage and block distractions.

Finally, individual employees should ensure that they get adequate rest to counter ongoing psychical and emotional exhaustion. Techno-stressors, along with long virtual meetings, can trigger sensory overload. Sensory rest, taking mindful moments of sensory deprivation, can also be helpful.

Why Interpersonal Skills at Work Matter and How to Improve Them

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Effective interpersonal skills are a part of an individual’s professional toolbox. Such skills play an important role in daily interactions at work and relating to others in general.

By nurturing interpersonal relations, people become more at ease in their work environment and collaborate with other teams smoothly. This may also reflect on one’s productivity and ability to deal with clients. 

Poor interpersonal skills could lead to negative feelings and unsatisfactory results at work. It can cause people to feel left out, experience self-doubt, and get into conflicts at work. 

Individuals who make efforts to improve their interpersonal skills can contribute to several areas in their organization: 

Teamwork and Productivity. A group of people who can communicate to each other has a higher chance of completing a goal. Being encouraging and helpful in their language can help improve productivity.

Conflict management. Friction is inevitable in the workplace. Managing conflicts requires careful use of language, ability to listen to all sides of the story, and understanding motivation.

Leadership. Leadership skills are applied to interpersonal relations when you have to provide constructive feedback and motivate others to achieve your goals.

How to Improve An Organization’s Interpersonal Skills

With practice and support from management, organizations can improve their interpersonal skills.

Identify areas that need improvement. This can be done by asking a colleague, leader, friend, or family member. What are the things that make it hard for a person to understand another person’s words? Where does misunderstanding usually start? Companies can also hold workshops and seminars about business communication or workplace interpersonal skills.

Practice active listening. Ask everyone to pause and pay attention whenever a colleague is expressing his or her opinion. Remove distractions, such as mobile phones, to let the person talking knows that his or her opinion is valued. While individuals can express their ideas and opinions, listening can help them understand each other better and make each other feel respected and valued. 

Develop empathy. Being able to place oneself in someone else’s shoes allows you to better understand the motivation and reasons behind their words and actions.

Keep a positive mindset. Having a positive outlook when you are interacting with others allows you to become objective, strive for fairness, appreciate what the other person is saying, and create interactions that will help you get your desired outcome.  

Focus on encouraging others. Encouragement can be shown through acknowledging others’ achievements, offering to help someone who is having a bad day or a difficult time, expressing appreciation for team members, or giving simple compliments.

Be aware of your emotions. Whenever there is tension, conflict, or any source of negative emotions, try pausing for a while or perform breathing exercises. Once you are calm, you will be able to think clearly and communicate your feelings and ideas effectively.

Why Businesses Shouldn’t Miss Out On Big Data and AI

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“The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data.” 

That statement from The Economist in 2017 cannot be overstated. Businesses in all shapes and sizes must realize that adapting to an already data-driven world is the only way to survive, connect, and thrive.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) was introduced in the 1950s by a computer researcher named John McCarthy. He defined AI as “the science and engineering of making intelligent machines.”

Nowadays, innovation pioneers like Microsoft, Google, and IBM have made strides in AI advancement to back cloud analytics, client engagement, and more. AI has become a program outlined to complete tasks that would regularly require human capabilities or input. AI is considered an innovation that takes after or mirrors human insights and actions, including speech, reviewing pictures, or making a conversation. To a great extent, AI can do those things by recognizing designs inside the information and reacting based on pre-defined rationale.

On the other hand, big data is an extensive, fast, and diverse information resource that requires advanced forms of processing to improve decision making, knowledge generation, and process optimization. 

Big data describes  sets of information created in different formats and through different sources, such as software applications, IoT sensors, customer feedback surveys, videos, and images.. 

Big datasets are developed by collecting large amounts of information from real-time data streams, established databases, or legacy datasets. As the environment constantly changes and grows, we need powerful software to protect, classify, and explain information for both short-term and long-term use. 

Organizations often use a combination of cloud-based applications and data warehousing tools to develop analytic architectures that collect, organize, and visualize data. AI-powered tools are central to tailoring many of these moving parts to consistent insights that support decision-making.

Linking Up Big Data and AI for Business

Implementing big data with AI has already been vital for many businesses that aim to have a competitive edge. It doesn’t really matter whether it is a new company or an established leader in the market. They use data-driven strategies to turn information into perceptible value. It is common to find big data in almost every industry, from IT and banking to agriculture and healthcare.

Business experts acknowledge that big data and AI can create new ideas for growth and expansion. There is even a possibility that a new type of business will become popular soon: data analysis and aggregation companies for particular industries. The purpose of those organizations is to process enormous flows of data and generate insights. Before this happens, businesses should empower their big data capabilities intensively. In the past, estimations were made based on the retroactive point of view. Leveraging real-time analysis, big data can empower predictions and allow strategists to test assumptions and theories faster.

Data and AI are typically applied to analytics and automation, helping businesses transform their operations in the process.

Analytics tools like Microsoft, Azure, and Synapse help organizations predict or identify trends that inform decision-making around product development, service delivery, workflows, and more. Additionally, your data will be organized into dashboard visualizations, reports, charts, and graphs for readability.

Big data and AI in Health

The global market for AI-driven health care is expected to register a CAGR of 40 percent through 2021 and to up from USD 600 million in 2014. Further advances in AI and big data provide developing countries with opportunities to solve existing challenges in the health care access of their populations. AI combined with robotics and IoMT could also help developing countries address healthcare problems and meet SDG 3 on good health and well-being. AI can be deployed in health training, keeping well, early disease detection, diagnosis, decision-making, treatment, end-of-life care, and health research. For instance, AI can outperform radiologists in cancer screening, particularly in patients with lung cancer. Results suggest that the use of AI can cut false positives by 11 percent.

Big data and AI in Agriculture

Today’s global population of 7.6 billion is expected to rise to 9.8 billion by 2050, with half of the world’s population growth concentrated in nine countries, such as India, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan, Ethiopia, the United Republic of Tanzania, the United States of America, Uganda, and Indonesia. 

The growing demand for food will put massive pressure on the use of water and soil. All of this will be exacerbated by climate change and global warming. 

Big data and AI in Education

AI can reshape high-quality education and learning through precisely targeted and individually customized human capital investments. Incorporating AI into online courses enhances access to affordable education and improves learning and employment in emerging markets. Also, AI technologies can ensure equitable and inclusive access to education, providing marginalized people and communities, such as persons with disabilities, refugees, and those out of school or living in isolated communities, with access to appropriate learning opportunities.

Expected Economic Gains from AI Worldwide

AI could contribute up to USD 15.7 trillion to the global economy in 2030, more than the current GDP of China and India combined. Of this, USD 6.6 trillion will be derived from increased productivity and USD 9.1 trillion from the knock-on effects of consumption. The total projected impact for Africa and Asia-Pacific markets would be USD 1.2 trillion. For comparison, the combined 2019 GDP for all countries in sub-Saharan Africa was USD 1.8 trillion. Thus, the successful deployment of AI and big data would open up a world of opportunities for developing countries.

The big data market is expected to grow tremendously over the projected years. One of the important reasons is the rapid increase in the amount of structured and unstructured data. Factors include the increasing penetration of technology and the proliferation of smartphones in all areas of life. This leads to a large amount of data. 

Other industries such as healthcare, utilities, and banking make extensive use of online platforms to provide enhanced services to their customers. 

Intelligent use of big data in day-to-day operations enables you to make data-driven decisions and respond quickly to market trends that have a direct impact on business performance.

If you would like to learn more about the best practices for analyzing data, sign up for The KPI Institute’s Data Analysis Certification.

The next exceptional education trend: virtual reality vs. augmented reality

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Image Source: Bradley Hook | Pexels

The terms virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) get thrown around a lot. VR headsets, like the Oculus Quest or Valve Index, and AR apps and games, such as Pokemon Go, are still popular. VR and AR two different concepts, with characteristics that distinguish one from the other, but they look similar. And as these technologies develop, they naturally bleed into each other. 

What is virtual reality?

VR headsets completely take over your vision to give you the impression that you’re somewhere else. The HTC Vive Cosmos, the PlayStation VR, the Oculus Quest, the Valve Index, and other headsets are opaque, blocking out your surroundings when you wear them. If you put them on when they’re turned off, you might think you’re blindfolded.

When the headsets turn on, however, the LCD or OLED panels inside are refracted by the lenses to fill your field of vision with whatever is being displayed. It can be a game, a 360-degree video, or just the virtual space of the platforms’ interfaces. You’re taken visually to wherever the headset wants you to go—the outside world is replaced with a virtual one.

What is augmented reality?

AR is one of the biggest technology trends, and it’s only going to get bigger as AR-ready smartphones and other devices become more accessible around the world. AR can make us see the real-life environment right in front of us—trees swaying in the park, dogs chasing balls, or kids playing soccer—with a digital augmentation overlaid on it. A pterodactyl might be seen landing in the trees, the dogs could be mingling with their cartoon counterparts, and the kids could be seen kicking past an alien spacecraft on their way to score a goal.

Considering the advances in AR technology, these examples are not that different from what might already be available for your smartphone. AR is readily available and being used in myriad ways, such as in Snapchat lenses, in apps that help you find your car in a crowded parking lot, and in a variety of shopping apps that let you try on clothes without even leaving home.

Maybe the most famous example of AR technology is the mobile app Pokemon Go, which was released in 2016 and quickly became an inescapable sensation. In the game, players locate and capture Pokemon characters that pop up in the real world—on your sidewalk or in a fountain.

VR and AR in modern learning

The eLearning industry is all about making use of advanced technologies to enhance the learning experience. In the end, the aim is to make learning an easy, enjoyable task. Achieving that target without incorporating the latest technological tools is virtually impossible in the digital era.

Thus, augmented and virtual reality have slowly but surely been edging into the eLearning sector. These techniques have been warmly accepted by modern learners because of the many benefits they offer. If you are still unaware of these trending alternate reality technologies, then here are the five benefits of using them.

1. Make the eLearning process engaging and exciting.

Engaging online learners within the eLearning environment is one of the biggest hurdles eLearning professionals face. The use of augmented and virtual reality makes eLearning programs more innovative and enjoyable. 

2. Create scenarios that otherwise are impossible to create.

Augmented and virtual reality technologies have added another dimension to the field of eLearning. They take online learners to another world and allow them to gain experience without any risk. This technology also enables organizations to incorporate environments that would be too costly to recreate in the real world.

3. Focus on a practical approach rather than theory.

The existing education system focuses more on theory than practical approach. That is the reason why people tend to forget rotely learned concepts so easily. On the contrary, augmented and virtual reality make learning a practical experience. And experiences are what stick with online learners and enable them to recall the information for later use. Some concepts that in theory appear to be dry fail to catch online learners’ attention for more than 15 minutes.

However, AR and VR can make them more interesting by adding practical application and immersion to eLearning. This also helps online learners to appreciate the importance of concepts and ideas instead of merely brushing them off as  theoretical knowledge that has no correlation with their work duties or responsibilities).

4. Encourage online learners to learn from their mistakes.

 Incorporation of alternate reality technologies into the learning environment removes any doubts from the minds of online learners. With these technologies, online learners are able to try out their own ideas and reach their own conclusions. This also ensures that the lesson learned sticks with them and creates an emotional connection.

5. Allow for self-guided exploration.

Augmented and virtual reality technologies can create a safe environment for online learners to experiment and try things that would otherwise be impossible.

The power of alternate reality technologies make eLearning more engaging and productive. As the technology evolves, so too will the applications in eLearning.  That’s why it’s essential for eLearning pros to keep up with cutting-edge tech and think of new and innovative uses for modern applications. 

How to prevent employee burnout while working from home

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Employee burnout is one of the most common challenges being faced by companies that are now operating from the comfort of their homes.

An Ipsos survey for the World Economic Forum showed that 53% of people mostly or always worked in an office before the pandemic. The figure fell to 39% at the time of the survey, held between 21 May and 4 June 2021. Seventy-six percent of those working from home today say their set-up is a result of the global health crisis.

However, 69% of employees have been experiencing remote work burnout, according to the global online employment platform Monster. Employees who work from home have to manage work, home responsibilities, and different types of anxiety.

What is burnout? Burnout, as defined by Ayala Pines and Elliot Aronson in their book “Career Burnout,” is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by long term involvement in emotionally demanding situations.

In general, employee burnout can be caused by one’s lack of ability to complete their duties, continual exposure to stressful situations, having minimum support from the community, lack of recognition, and inefficiency.

The signs of employee burnout are:

  • Exhaustion
  • Frequent illnesses, such as headaches, backache, or insomnia
  • Being irritated easily
  • Negative outlook
  • Low interest and low energy
  • Feeling empty and pulling away emotionally from the environment

Individuals who are experiencing burnout at work may not give their best performance since they are under stress. Extreme fatigue could lead to a drop in productivity and may affect any organization. Moreover, burnout could also cause feelings of futility and alienation, undermine the quality of relationships, and diminish long-term career prospects.

Some people resort to short-term solutions, such as going on a vacation. That would certainly help, but the relief they may experience is only temporary. Instead of reacting to burnout, one can prevent it before it happens.

Here are some tips that may create a lasting effect:

Establish boundaries on work schedule. When working from home, it is easy for employees not to realize that they are working overtime. Create a reminder for proper time management and mindful rest at home.

Prioritize a “me” time. A “me” time means allocating time for your own relaxation that is according to your preference. That may mean good sleeping habits, having a balanced diet, or exercising. Apart from physical workouts, one can try practicing meditation. Or one can also spend time on their preferred hobbies, such as hiking or cooking.

Try seeking a purpose at work. Discovering one’s passion through their career can be a source of motivation and other positive feelings. One can also reflect on their impact on their teammates, their company, and their community.

Reconnect. Find time to slow down and observe the surrounding. Start a new connection, like a friendship or mentorship. Interact with others to identify and activate positive relationships as well as learning opportunities. While connecting with others online could be challenging, finding some pockets of time to discuss non-work topics would be a nice break from any work stress.

Discuss work-from-home challenges with the management. Organizations should be aware of issues that their employees who are working from home are struggling with so they can implement new programs to address them.

There is no single solution to work burnout as employees may experience it in different ways. However, starting with small steps like knowing when to log off from work or how to connect with others could make a huge difference.

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