It’s hard to remember a time when technology wasn’t such a vital part of our lives.
Constant connectivity means we’re now always plugged in – to our friends, to the news and increasingly to our work. For many people, from the moment they’re woken up by their smartphone alarm to when they’re sending those final emails before bed, the pull of technology runs right through the day.
Yet this overstimulation could be damaging our ability to concentrate, with many of us finding it increasingly hard to switch off. Recent research from EY found that more than 40% of UK consumers suffer from what is known as digital fatigue, with an even greater number of young people feeling the strain of the near-constant exposure to technology.
With the ultra-connected younger generations dominating today’s workforce, concerns of digital fatigue and the need to disconnect from technology are becoming more important.
Our dwindling attention spans
Technology, and more specifically its ability to keep us constantly ‘on’ and connected, is making us tired. Scientists at the University of Yonsei in Korea found that the increased energy required to respond to the constant flow of information is leading to physical and psychological strain.
Another major side effect of tech fatigue is that it can shorten attention span. With technology constantly feeding us new information, our ability to focus is decreasing. And this can have a negative impact across all aspects of our lives; how we learn, how we interact with others and how we work can all be affected by shortening attention spans.
The productivity problem
While both employees and employers may benefit from the various efficiencies of technology, it can be detrimental to productivity. For example, having our phones on hand can mean that the moment our mind wanders from the task in front of us rather than re-focusing we instead indulge our distractedness. Psychologist Glenn Wilson conducted research into the impact of this on intelligence and found persistent interruptions and distractions at work can decrease an individual’s IQ score by an average of 10 points.
Some organisations have started taking steps to ban or confiscate phones at work to help improve productivity and focus. Yet many find the idea of their employer confiscating a personal phone deeply troubling.
Rather than confiscating phones, employers could take a more voluntary approach and create ‘tech-free’ spaces in work environments. The best workspaces offer break-out areas or quiet zones where people can escape their desks and instead engage with one another face to face. And these physical spaces of separation could help solve the other productivity issue technology is causing: an inability to switch off from work.
However, as fewer people become tied to physical offices tech-free zones won’t be a workable solution for all. For these employees flexible workspaces (designated spaces for work away from the home) could help them separate their home and work lives. For those who freelance or regularly work from home this would provide a place to focus on work, while mentally distinguishing home as a place to switch off and enjoy leisure and relaxation.
Finding the balance
Even though technology has brought huge benefits to employers and employees there’s clearly a need to find the right balance. Being on call 24/7 can leave people less productive and the damage to people’s attention spans can negatively affect all aspects of life, not just work.
Flexible workspaces and designated tech-free zones are just two of the solutions to this modern-day issue, helping people separate work time from non-work time and minimising distractions when working.
In the coming years, as our dependence on technology continues to grow, employers will need to consider what further boundaries they can put in place to prevent the workforce becoming digitally fatigued.
Richard Morris is CEO of IWG UK