Tech Firms Tweak Work Tools to Grapple with ‘Digital Exhaustion’

From The Wall Street Journal:

Big tech companies— Microsoft Corp. , Adobe Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google among them—are adding new twists to their work tools to fight Zoom fatigue and general burnout as working from home stretches into a second year for millions of people.

Microsoft, for example, has introduced a setting in its Outlook email and calendar to prevent back-to-back video meetings by automatically carving out breaks in between. The downtime can be programmed for 5, 10 or 15 minutes, for example, and can be set by an individual or organization.

A prototype tool in the Adobe Workfront platform uses artificial intelligence to help reorganize users’ days based on priorities they have set and any last-minute changes to their personal and business schedules.

. . . .

And in March, Google announced updates to its Workspace tools to demarcate working hours and create recurring “away” notifications to lessen digital interruptions.

Tweaks like these aim to address concerns on work-life balance from both employees and employers as remote work continues. With employees never leaving the “office,” work has seeped into all hours of the day, plus weekends; the lack of in-person time with colleagues has resulted in a glut of video meetings.

Employers have taken some steps on their own. Citigroup Inc., for instance, is experimenting with new policies like banning video meetings on Fridays. And software firm BetterCloud Inc. is using a bot on Slack to ask attendees of some virtual meetings whether the gatherings were worthwhile.

. . . .

“The acceleration that happened during Covid, where suddenly the only way to connect with others was through technology, it was clear that we needed to be better at using it and defining our own boundaries,” said Nellie Hayat, head of workplace transformation at VergeSense Inc., a workplace analytics platform. As well, that effort would have to be “synchronized with others,” she added.

Outlook’s new break setting dovetails with the virtual commute feature Microsoft added to its Teams tools to delineate the start and finish of employees’ workdays.

“This joins that set of things that’s meant to help them kind of develop the practices that we need to have to manage this digital exhaustion that they feel,” said Jared Spataro, corporate vice president of Microsoft 365, which houses Outlook and Teams.

. . . .

In its March announcement, Google included a new calendar entry called Focus Time, which decreases the notifications it shows users during stretches designated for uninterrupted work and changes their status in chat to “Do not disturb.” The feature will be out this year.

Some of the new features seem more geared to what an organization wants for its employees than what employees might choose for themselves, user experience designers said.

Stopping all notifications from every workplace tool during a break, for example, would be more beneficial than creating rest moments between meetings, said Emma Greenwood, strategy director at I&CO Group LLC, a strategy and invention firm.

. . . .

Fewer video meetings and more breaks can help, but they don’t address the burnout and isolation of at-home workers in the pandemic.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

PG suspects the consequences of extended periods of social isolation in its various garbs under a variety of shut-down, shelter-in-place, social-distancing, etc., etc., etc., have resulted in lower energy levels and decreased concentration, lower productivity, etc., to a greater extent than the increased pressure of remote work (which is a subset of the social isolation problem) has by itself.

See Languishing for more information.

Full-time authors may have suffered less disruption of their work routines than office workers, but the languishing effect of social isolation is, PG suspects, impacting the work of authors as well.

4 thoughts on “Tech Firms Tweak Work Tools to Grapple with ‘Digital Exhaustion’”

  1. You suspect correct, PG! I’m one of these tech workers at a big company experimenting with no-meeting afternoons etc. And I’m skeptical.

    It’s up to individuals to keep boundaries in place and organize their own work-life balance; if you wait for a boss to roll out a mandate that’s “for your own good” you’re already way behind the game. But I like the idea of a virtual commute at the end of the day. I think I’ll put a fifteen-minute “commute” at the end of my workdays so I’m not heading straight from my desk to the dinner table every evening.

    • Maybe a run to the nearest Baskin-Robbin’s? (A positive reinforcement reward for putting in a good workday?)
      And it might help you eat less at dinner… or not!

    • Might I suggest a bit of video gaming as a “palate cleanser”.
      In other times a walk around the block might do the trick but in today’s environment that’s the safest way to get a jolt of adrenaline.

  2. I’m “learning” French with Duoling.com, to be doing something completely different. That and of course doing jigsaw puzzles with BrainBreaker5 whenever I need to refocus my mind.

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