Recently I received a WhatsApp from a colleague with whom she shared her thoughts on digital resilience and digital awareness. The colleague works in an agency environment and describes that one tool after the other is currently being introduced to support her work processes. E-mails as standard communication and sometimes also documentation tool, Slack to facilitate internal communication, Evernote as note portal for channelling texts, Dropbox and additionally Meistertask. Something would always ring, notifications would be displayed and everything should to be maintained and cared for. She experiences a slight sensory overload and partial overstrain in her environment.
The flood of information and the right tools
I know that from myself. As soon as my computer has started up, I have already opened one or two browser windows with three or four tabs each. My standard websites and programs are social networks (Facebook, Xing), my calendar app, Gmail and up to ten Trello boards, not to mention Google Keep. My current personal challenge is not only dealing with the multitude of tools, but above all filtering and documenting relevant information. Currently, I have not only a folder structure on the drive, but another one in the browser to store exciting and worth knowing websites. I am also happy to transfer ad hoc content directly into eBook templates, notes in Outlook or sometimes into one of the Trello boards. Always with regard to the efficiency of my work.
If I were to receive permanent notifications about this flood of information, I would hardly be able to focus personally. No wonder. Disruptions of all kinds interrupt the process in which we immerse ourselves in a highly concentrated task and perhaps even experience the feeling of flow. The happiness researcher Mihály Csíkszentmihályi described 1990 “Flow” as follows: “The state in which one concentrates one’s undivided attention on one activity and feels happiness.” This state occurs only after 15 minutes of concentration.
With regard to the work context and to return to the message of my colleague, in addition to the diversity of information and tools, there is also the wonderful possibility of making our work more flexible with regard to location and time independence. There is therefore no longer any limit to what we can do. It is wonderful what opportunities this creates. I personally see advantages in the compatibility of work, family and private life or in the reduction of commuting times. However, this is also accompanied by special challenges. Recognizing one’s own stress limit, perceiving the need for relaxation, peace and quiet and the way to work, and aligning one’s working and living environment accordingly. In addition, to have self-confidence in the employment relationship, to express it and to stand by one’s own needs in front of superiors and colleagues. As a first step in such a direction, we first need digital awareness in order to align and, if necessary, adapt our behaviour accordingly.
The opportunities of digitisation
Globalisation and digitisation are making more and more work possible across locations. Special sensitivity, strong communication skills and competence in building relationships are required and helpful in order to work well together, even if you don’t often meet analogously. Watzlawick already said that good communication can be achieved through an appropriate relationship between analogue and digital communication. It is always appropriate to the respective context and the way the participants work together.
Digitisation or digital transformation is often associated with a trend that says that if companies set up themselves digitally, then they are prepared for the future and can withstand international competition longer. But what does digitalisation or digital transformation actually mean? Does this mean that from now on all business processes should be digitized and all tools that individual employees open should be implemented? Please, don’t let that happen.
So what can the digitization of our working world serve for, what opportunities does it offer? Basically, it can be understood that the fulfilment of the work task can be designed digitally taking into account human characteristics, abilities and needs. The interaction of people, technology, information and organisation should be taken into consideration. The development and operational integration of digital technologies should have a positive effect on the agility and efficiency of value chains and production processes. The use of technology is always accompanied by organisational and cultural changes (i.e. learning). This is why we often speak of a digital transformation at the company level.
Digitisation and stress
Studies have shown that as a result of digitisation, the workload has increased, as has the amount of work to be done. This also applies to the number of simultaneous processes caused by digitisation.1
No wonder digital stress is increasing. This is the feeling that some people can experience as a result of using digital tools, means of communication and information, and that can lead to exhaustion, distraction and general discomfort.2
In my opinion, it is very worthwhile from an employer’s point of view, but also from the point of view of each and every one of us, to deal with this topic more intensively and to develop a digital awareness. Even if digital stress certainly has not only causes in the professional world, but is also influenced by intensive private use of digital devices. Digital stress among employees is accompanied by an increase in health complaints. More than half of stressed workers suffer from back pain, headaches and fatigue. Thus, digital stress reduces job performance, job satisfaction and, as a result, employer retention. Uncertainty in dealing with digital technologies is also perceived as the greatest trigger of stress.3
Prof. Böhm from the University of St. Gallen4 recently appealed at the Health Day of the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce that companies should develop so-called ” digitisation rules ” together with the parties involved. Due to the diversity of the affected systems and participants, there is no general solution that can be applied to all of them. To this end, we can use our human core competence of the ability to reflect and examine what is good for us personally and also for our working environment and thus ultimately promote digital awareness. And it is also important for each individual company to examine which steps are to be taken towards digital transformation on the basis of the circumstances and environmental conditions and not to jump completely onto every digital trend.
The company and digitisation
It could help to act in a focused manner throughout the entire process of digitisation. What is the company’s purpose, what is its mission and how can it be fulfilled in the best possible way? And how can digital workspaces or other ways of working help achieve these goals?
In the sense of Homo Oeconomicus, most companies are still interested in maximizing profits. Perhaps also partly about sustainable corporate design. Sustainable not only in terms of environmental aspects, but above all in terms of long-term good customer relationships and product innovations in order to withstand national or international competition. How are these goals most likely to be achieved? By trying to achieve a high level of customer satisfaction. This is usually achieved through motivated, satisfied and healthy employees and managers who get along well with each other and, in the best case, who carry the value or values of the company out into the world in addition to the customers.
Digital methods and tools can be used here in the interests of satisfied customers and good cooperation within the company. These are questions that should be asked by everyone who works with a variety of tools:
- Which tool do we want to use for which purpose?
- How can individual tools be used in the best possible way?
- Regular reflection in the team: will the goals be achieved? Has the tool proven to be useful and helpful? Does it contribute to productivity and good collaboration?
- How do the individual participants feel about it? Is there room for improvement? If so, where?
Those who already work in agile contexts will be familiar with this kind of reflection (“retrospective”). A retrospective is very helpful for me, especially in non-IT companies, with regard to the use of software, in order to develop a digital (self-) awareness.
Challenges on the way to digital awareness
Challenges as already described above are therefore for all of us
- the possible permanent availability,
- information and sensory overload,
- the use of new digital tools,
- dealing with the constantly changing working environment,
- uncertainty about the professional future.
What does it take to master these challenges? What personal and organisational competencies should employees and managers possess or develop? And what are the factors that make digital awareness so important?
- To develop self-perception as protection against personal overstrain and a sensitization in dealing with time pressure and interruptions
- Reflection capability
- Holistic approach in order to recognize and question one’s own contribution with regard to the company-wide goals; to develop the desire and joy of improving oneself
- Courage to make mistakes or to fail. Being able to explain working methods as unhelpful and at the same time preserve the desire for new things and learning
- Communication skills, questioning, thinking along with all those involved in a constructive and appreciative way
- Think along, feel responsible and yet keep your own limits
- Keeping a balance in order to sustainably maintain one’s own joy of working and living
- Maintain or achieve self-determination to develop resilience and stress management
The development of digital awareness is becoming increasingly important both for companies as a whole and for individuals. Everyone should try to reflect on and, if necessary, adapt work and behaviour patterns. But also organizations should pay attention to signs: for example, the number of mistakes increases, employees complain over and over again, there is an atmosphere of dissatisfaction and hecticness, employees comment on sleep problems, or the absenteeism and dismissal rate increases, organizations should quickly question the common way of working. Ideally, however, they should not wait so long, because developing digital awareness in our working world certainly makes sense for everyone at all times, doesn’t it?
 Universität Hohenheim / Fraunhofer IAO, 2016: »Zukunftsprojekt Arbeitswelt 4.0 BW« / Datenquelle: DGB Index »Gute Arbeit« 2016
 Gimpel, Lanzl, Manner-Romberg, Nüske, 2018
 Center for Disability and Integration der Universität St. Gallen (CDI-HSG): Studie zu den Auswirkungen der Digitalisierung auf die Gesundheit von Berufstätigen