How to Overcome Digital Overload: 4 Tips to Support Your Team

When you and your team are juggling Zoom meetings, emails, Slack messages, and day-to-day projects, it can feel hard to peel away and find balance. Many offices are approaching the year mark of working from home during COVID-19, and they’re feeling exhausted by so much screen time. 

Larry Rosen and Alexandra Samuel wrote in Harvard Business Review that digital overload might be the defining problem of today’s workplace. That was five years before COVID-19 upended office life and added work from home challenges. As Fast Company writer Aytekin Tank notes, we know too much digital communication can zap our productivity and ultimately lead to burnout. 

Even though we spend much of our working lives online, it’s important to take a critical look at our remote work experience. Doing so helps us implement practices to prevent digital overload. This guide will help you foster healthy habits and support your team with their digital well-being.

Implement a “Fake Commute”

“If the blur between work and home is still a struggle, mimicking your route from the Before Times may be the solution you need,” Kristen Rogers of CNN Business writes. You and your team can implement “fake commutes” as a daily habit to support your mental health and work-life balance. 

Rogers says that a fake commute can take the form of walking, running, or biking. The goal is to emulate the same time or mileage that your previous commute took. You can even go on a short drive if getting out for exercise isn’t available to you. The key is to make your fake commute a habit and take time for yourself to transition into the workday.

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Outside of a fake commute, you can encourage your team to take breaks throughout the day. Support them in unplugging, getting outside, eating lunch away from the screen, and taking care of any at-home needs.

Solicit Feedback on Your Communication Tools

Gwen Moran, a writer for Fast Company, suggests that employers should take stock of their team’s digital communications tools. It could be that some employees are using certain platform features while others are not. Knowing the most useful communication and collaboration tools can help your workplace cut through the many options. Find solutions that work best for your team. 

You can then create policies around each tool and when to use them. These policies could include parameters for instant messages or texts, email, collaboration platforms, and phone and video conferencing. Moran also notes how important it is for employers to adapt their communication style across platforms, especially among workplaces with different generations.

Update Your Digital Communications Policies

You likely updated your digital communications policies when COVID-19 caused major workplace changes in spring 2020. Now we’ve had almost a year to recalibrate and find our footing with remote work. This is a great time to refresh your practices. 

In its guide about digital overload, The Conversation offers three changes you can make to help improve your remote work culture:

  1. Switch between tasks less often – The guide says multitasking is a myth. For work that requires deep focus, it’s important to have uninterrupted time blocks. Reassess what necessitates a meeting for your workplace. Then, determine what can be covered in an email or Slack message instead. Support your team in blocking off meeting-free work periods. 
  2. Schedule set times for regular tasks – Instead of expecting team members to check their email and instant messages incessantly, encourage them to work in time blocks that limit distractions and bolster concentration. For example, team members can respond to email at three designated times throughout the day (morning, midday, and end of the day). This will free them from feeling compelled to respond immediately to every message.
  3. Limit unnecessary communication – Be judicious about what information you share with your team. Open, transparent communication is important, but you don’t want to bog your team down with unnecessary details. Try to send updates in regular batches instead of separate messages. You can summarize the most important information your team needs to know and encourage them to do the same.
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The Conversation says these three tips are far from a complete solution. “Addressing the problem of digital overload at work requires radical reflection on the temptations of technology – including thinking yet more technology will solve the problem.”

Model Healthy Communications Boundaries

As an employer,  you can establish norms that you and your employees don’t respond to emails or messages after hours, on the weekends, or during vacations (unless it’s an extenuating circumstance).  “With our home and work lives now enmeshed because of the pandemic, we need to start putting healthy communication policies in place so that we’re not inadvertently promoting 24/7 connectivity,” Tank of Fast Company writes

When you set this precedent of not sending after-hours emails or responding to messages on the weekend, it sends a powerful message to your team that you take work-life balance seriously. Creating time to unplug and recharge is crucial for the health of your team.

Looking for even more ways to help your employees overcome digital overload? Regina Borsellino wrote an excellent guide for The Muse with 14 tips for getting your screen time under control.