Digital wellbeing in the workplace: asking the right questions

Illustration: low battery.

Are you OK? No, really – how are you doing? Because I’m not ashamed to say I sometimes find things difficult.

I believe that’s the most important conversation we can have with each other right now, and always.

Without it, people will default to saying they’re “fine”, that things “aren’t too bad” and that they “mustn’t grumble”.

But designers and user researchers always believe things can be better. And they embrace change when evidence suggests it will deliver better outcomes.

We should apply that same approach to our own working practices, and the world of work more generally.

Let’s take a moment now to reflect and start asking some of those necessary questions.

We’ve faced big changes together

We’ve had to deal with a couple of years of constant change.

We were blindsided when lockdowns were enforced. How would this affect institutions and society, both then and in the long term?

In the workplace, ways of working had to change radically.

We were forced to adapt, to prioritise our health and sense of safety.

To remain connected to colleagues, technology had to improve. The uptake of communication and collaborative tools such as Zoom, Teams, Outlook, Slack, Miro and Mural increased.

Time to reflect on the hybrid working experience

In many ways, we enjoyed the convenience this offered us, but now it’s time to evaluate the quality of our shared experiences in a world of hybrid working.

Is it all positive?

Do we need to question how working from home and prolonged exposure to technologies such as video calling affect our mental health? 

Imagine joining a new company and never actually meeting your team members in person. How would this affect how integrated you feel with the company?

And even with more years of experience, perhaps there are still drawbacks we need to consider.

Of course, I’m not saying the solution is to work in the office all the time. But I do want to ask questions about how working from home affect team cohesion and our sense of connection to colleagues and peers.

It’s especially important to consider that in relation to moments of crisis, such as bereavement, as the lines between work and home life have blurred.

When someone is already feeling isolated from colleagues, whilst juggling work stressors, problems at home can hit much harder, leading to illness, or worse.

If we consider the unintended consequences of hybrid working,
and understand the subtle ways it may help or hinder us, we’ll be better equipped for this new steady state.

Where are the answers?

We need to know the answers to the above questions and consider their implications. But where do we look to find them?

Here’s where we should start, in my opinion:

  • cyberpsychology – the study of the interaction between human beings, society, and technology
  • business psychology – the study of how to optimise employee engagement, morale, wellbeing, and productivity in the workplace
  • positive psychology – the study of understanding positive experiences and how to help people flourish, and live their best lives

The overlap between these fields holds the answers we need to design a better version of hybrid working.

We’re all different, with different needs

People have different needs, personalities, and responsibilities.

Some of us thrive in company, others find peace in solitude.

Some of us are parents or carers, with duties and routines. Others are freer and more flexible.

Some of us do our best work in collaboration, face to face. Others need to focus, without interruption, to do what they do.

And, of course, most of us drift between one state and another depending on external factors, or the work we’re doing.

The point is, there’s no one solution that will work for everybody, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

Asking the right questions

We may not have all the answers in the beginning, but that’s OK.

What’s more important is to embrace the ambiguity and ask the right questions.

Allow yourself space to simply question your use of technology and your working patterns, without jumping to make changes or find solutions.

Start with these simple questions, considering how they apply both online and offline:

  • How are you really?
  • How connected do you feel to your colleagues?
  • How can I make my meetings more meaningful?
  • Am I equipped to do my job to the best of my ability?
  • What stops me expressing myself at work?

It’s OK to make mistakes

To get to a better place, you need to trust the learning process.

You may have to go through some trial and error. You might make mistakes.

But as Gandalf says, “Just because you have stumbled does not mean you have fallen.”

(Yes, I’m a Lord of the Rings nerd, and not ashamed of it. See the question above about expressing yourself!)

It’s OK to not be OK

If what you discover by asking these questions is that you’re not in a good place, that’s fine.

Have faith and trust that your colleagues and friends will support you.

We all know that life brings its ups and downs. We’ve all been there.

And we appreciate you for not just what you do, but for who you are.

Above all, remember this…

Whether you work mostly from home, or mostly in the office, or somewhere in between, you deserve a psychologically safe space in which to work.

You deserve to feel heard and valued.

Only people who know and feel this can bring their complete selves to work, and flourish.

Further reading