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