Navigating our way around emerging technologies and how they impact us.
When we hear the term ‘digital wellbeing’, several topics surface to mind—invasive emails, being able to clock out of work when the day comes to an end, and so forth. We think about technology and how we’re constantly bombarded with media discussing the effects it has on our wellbeing and everyday jobs in Malta or elsewhere.
Whatever it is, digital wellbeing is not a term concretely defined, rather it is a lengthy concept that aligns any digital services and tools with our mental and physical states. To place a working definition in practice, I’ll be using the following to refer to digital wellbeing: “Digital wellbeing considers the impact of technologies and digital services on people’s mental, physical, and emotional health” (Shah, 2019).
The above definition encapsulates multiple contexts where we find ourselves using technology, including different workplace settings. We can use it to explore the contributing factors of technology, the positive, and negative, in order to improve these to support general wellbeing. Further, we can delve into digital services and their impact on a societal scale and move from an individualistic stance on wellbeing. In this way, we also consider technology in terms of accessibility and equality.
Remote work and technology
The Covid-19 pandemic urged a global workforce to transfer their (now considered) traditional office environments to portable home stations—largely supported by technology. In our remote jobs, we now use software more than ever, where meeting rooms and coffee stations shifted to video conferencing mediums, removing social opportunities that allowed us temporary absence from our computers.
Nevertheless, employee preferences have also changed to largely support a remote working life, largely due to its inherent flexibility with work from home jobs. In a survey reported by EIU (2020), 75% of employees across numerous countries were looking forward to working from home post-pandemic. Encouraging a remote first attitude will only transfer ourselves further into a digital space, relying more on technologies as they work tremendously to support our new lifestyle.
Technology could be created and support our beings effectively; it is largely their main premise to do so in the first place. For example, working parents who struggle to balance between work and family responsibilities are able to satisfy these better when working from home. There’s also room for inclusivity and diversity, as individuals working remote jobs can be based in many geographical regions.
However, well into the pandemic, we already know particular drawbacks that negatively impact employees. Common mental health conditions, including stress, depression, and anxiety, have increased due to the pandemic’s general uncertainty, and forced social isolation brought about from tight lockdown regulations (Usher et al., 2020). Due to global school closures, working parents had to navigate between their work and their children’s schooling, taking a toll on their mental health (Creswell et al., 2021). This means that, when considering digital wellbeing and healthcare, we need to overcome mental health challenges to positively support a remote work environment.
Digital transformation is affecting the majority of industries internationally, from learning hardware equipment to online services. Leaders are now responsible for ensuring employees understand and feel comfortable using the latest technologies applied in an organisation, as at times, these can be quite intimidating. Leaders should take the time to understand software tools planned to include in the workplace and check in with employees for support.
Digital wellbeing, although by definition reliant on technology, relates to general mental and physical wellbeing as well. Leaders must clearly communicate the latest policies implemented in organisations, whether this means going back to the office, or novel flexible protocols. More importantly, leaders and executives alike should foster a workplace culture that values open communication—specifically dedicating time to hear any concerns voiced by employees in their in-office or remote jobs.
Generally, whilst technology boasts numerous benefits related to convenience, our working lives shifting to virtual environments led many workers to disengagement from social opportunities. Leaders should prioritise communication and envision novel social activities to ensure employee support and boosted morale.
The future of digital wellbeing
Whilst it is important to understand today’s present challenges to construct solutions, it’s also worth exploring how technology can revolutionise the future of digital wellbeing. Some of the below are what we already see in practice today, making emerging technologies an exciting prospect to attend to:
AI: AI tools and machine learning already showcase the sheer volume of data they can gather and analyse. We are particularly noting its utility in healthcare industries, where professionals are using AI to manage patient details (Wittbold et al., 2020). Data models will continue to evolve and optimise for diverse industries, alleviating the stress that arises with mundane and tedious workplace tasks.
Digitalised services: means to collaborate in teams will become further digitised and stored data will be closely kept to collaborative software, where teams will analyse and interpret data digitally. The pandemic has shown the necessity to move data across industries and countries rapidly, meaning we will continue to optimise software tools that allow us to communicate purely and effectively in a digital space.
Enhanced connectivity: whilst we’re already inundated with mobile applications that sport strong social networks, these should and will be further optimised to allow technological accessibility across countries. Industries will cross-collaborate and provide their latest insights with the general populace in the nick of time.
Electronic healthcare: the healthcare industry is generally quite slow to adopt the latest technologies, and with good reason. They possess critical, sensitive, and personal data that pose a high cybersecurity risk they cannot afford. Best practices and standards are still to be concretely implemented, and these will be at the forefront of healthcare change within the next few years. Patients will be updated with their latest records and gain proper understanding of their health outcomes.
Of course, the above will present novel challenges that will have to be strategically overcome. Like all technologies, these pass-through rigorous testing phases whilst individuals agree on best practices going forward. We shouldn’t forget to highlight these standards in order to mitigate any risks in terms of digital wellbeing. Leaders should effectively become role-models that openly communicates mental health and support, fostering an organisational culture that accepts emerging technologies whilst considering employee needs and accessibility.
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