The rise of anxiety from constant connectivity “solutions”
Most of us will be familiar with the five forces that create work-related stress, and many of us will have experienced them:
- Unmanageable workloads: Our to do lists never shrink and work becomes so overwhelming that we feel as if we were drowning.
- A lack of purpose : We don’t believe the work we do make a meaningful contribution to the world, which makes us feel that getting up, brushing our teeth and going to work were completely pointless.
- Unfair treatment: Everything from feeling unappreciated to experiencing workplace discrimination, facing unequal pay and being passed over for promotion.
- Unclear roles: A lack of clarity concerning what is expected of us and what we are responsible for. This requires a high threshold for ambiguity and uncertainty, which most of us prefer to live without.
- Toxic work relationships: If we don’t feel supported, enabled, trusted or simply cannot relate to the people we work with we are likely to encounter challenging interpersonal relationships. (And that’s before we come to horrible bosses, micromanagers or demanding direct reports).
But there is a sixth factor contributing to rising levels of anxiety and burnout, and it is defined by how we collaborate in modern workplaces:
6. The Hyperactive Hive Mind: The term was coined by productivity theorist Cal Newport in an attempt to describe a reason behind the decline in productivity of knowledge workers in advanced economies. In short, he proposes that a whole new ecosystem of “productivity tools” has created a constant stream of unstructured communication and an expectations of constant availability. This then naturally results in distraction and anxiety.
But enough theorizing. It is time we tame the sources of growing workplace stress. Max Wolke, from Fraugster, a Speedinvest portfolio company, and Valerie Wiederkehr-Prundianu, our People Manager, suggest practical tips and remedies to the biggest challenges posed by living and working in a continual state of partial attention.
Challenge #1: Driven to Distraction
We live in a culture of immediacy and constant availability - the hyperactive hive mind in action. Slack messages must be answered and overflowing email inboxes must be cleaned. This creates a never-ending cycle that increases the amount of work on our plate while also constantly distracting us from getting it finished.
- Block your calendar to protect time for distraction-free “deep work”: This will allow you to focus on getting stuff done free from pinging noises and notifications. It’s also a visual signal to your team members that now is not the best time to reach you or to simply expect some delays.
- Introduce weekly meeting-free days: As a leader, you can support your team members by introducing company-wide practices and leading by example. One weekly meeting-free day helps team members work more productively. It eliminates the “time lost” and mental resources taken up by prepping for and attending meetings, as well as any post-meeting work.
- Treat your tools like allies: Make the most of your current tools, like Slack, to manage expectations through the use of integrations or status updates to show when you are (and more importantly when you are not) available. Look into new tools like Calendly to ensure you don’t get booked with back-to-back external meetings. And, don’t be afraid to stop using tools that kill productivity.
Challenge #2: Blurred Boundaries
When your daily commute is just crossing your living room, the boundaries between work and home can blur. It can become impossible to switch off. The same applies to being constantly connected to hive mind apps that draw us back to our inboxes.
- Establish healthy boundaries: Honor your (core) working hours and out-of-office times. This will help prevent overworking and ensure you get enough downtime to recharge your batteries. Work-life balance can be reclaimed even though working from home can make it tough. For example, take a walk at the end of each workday to signal the transition from work time to private time.
- Consider calls with cameras off: Being on a video call in your home office can feel intrusive with your background of personal belongings out there for all to see. Video calls also induce stress because faces are so close and you see yourself so much. So they can end up not only distracting, but also really exhausting. The solution is simple: Treat yourself to some calls without video. To prevent the awkwardness of “Could we turn our cameras off?” define some guidelines ahead of time. For instance, all Monday morning calls or 15-min check-ins happen without video.
- Introduce initiatives to improve work-life balance: As a leader, you can introduce policies on core working hours, vacation days and even introduce dedicated mental health vacation days. There are also tools like Spill that give your team access to mental health support and counselors. Introducing initiatives to support mental health and reduce stress will show how serious you take this topic and care for your team. As always, lead by example to encourage others to take part and then you’ll all be less stressed working from home.
Challenge #3: Hyperconnected disconnection
Ten thousand (maybe more) people are Slacking without speaking and answering without listening. We are in constant communication, but not necessarily connected and there are plenty of opportunities for misunderstanding. The past year has also brought a feeling of isolation to many who are cut off from colleagues. This calls for new formats for collaboration. Sometimes a 15 minute check in is the best way to align. Sometimes we just need a quick chit chat to boost our mood and not mention a word of work.
- Connect and check-in with colleagues: Schedule regular, but optional, work and non-work related check-ins. This will help to clarify expectations, develop team norms and generally improve communication. Non-work related interactions are held so dear when in the office, but are often forgotten in remote work. They allow us to bond. That’s why it’s important to create space for social chit chat. Some ideas are “morning espresso check-ins” or “after work wine socials”.
- Manual of Me: This tool helps people understand each other better. We learn how to interact with one another as individuals and what our unique stress triggers are (certainly something to avoid). This is also beneficial when onboarding is remote and it’s more difficult to get to know people. The Manual of Me is a useful tool to set this up.
- Over-communicate, but with a grain of salt: As a leader, you can be pro-active and over-communicate and repeatedly invite people to share their thoughts and feelings. However, be aware that over-communication and information overload can lead to even more stress. A good idea is to combine monthly all-hands meetings (aka townhalls) to get everybody on the same page and then add weekly pulse surveys like Officevibe to get team insights.
Operating as human signal routers is not sustainable
It is high time that we acknowledge the harmful effects of working within the constant communication buzz of the hive mind. Without time to think, millions of us worldwide are reduced to quickly firing out responses in the minutes between back to back calls.
People are not designed to be glorified human network routers. But it is in our power to reclaim our individual wellbeing and productivity. We hope that the tips we have shared will help you take conscious steps towards a healthier approach to work and collaboration, both for yourself and your team. Hopefully then, we’ll be able to remove a sixth source of stress from a list that is already long enough.
We would love to hear what steps you take to combat work-related stress. Ping us on LinkedIn (Max and Valerie) and let’s help all of us improve our wellbeing at the workplace together.
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