Now that working from home has become the norm for many, the digital well-being and happiness of employees and customers is more important than ever. Despite the many impressive changes we’ve seen due to the outbreak of corona, we are still in a learning and experimental phase of working from home. There is a urge to take the next step. To focus onto less tangible values such as the lack of conversation at the coffee machine, serendipity and the blurred boundaries between work and private life. IT managers, can thus make an important contribution to the digital happiness of customers and employees.
COVID-19 has put a lot of pressure on our relationship with technology. Thanks to human ingenuity, resourcefulness and the use of many technological tools, organizations have had to adapt quickly to the social-distance society in which working from home is the *coughs* “New Normal”. Technically everything is now pretty much in order, but now the question is what impact this way of working has on the so-called digital happiness of the digital work class. Three years ago, we conducted research into this subject. At the time, this was still strange, uncomfortable and not very concrete. Digital happiness is now becoming increasingly important. Screen time apps are already well established and Google, for example, has its Digital Wellbeing project. The so-called Center for Humane Technology was founded and the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma brought a lot of the practices described at SogetiLabs and other media to the mainstream. This Hollywood-esque drama documentary provides insight into the impact of social media and smartphones on our lives. The documentary makes the viewer aware of the importance of digital happiness and how far away we are often from it.
Digital happiness is the degree to which a person views digital technology as a positive contribution to their experience of positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and success. This can be about contacting family, friends and colleagues via video calling. But also about the fatigue that arises after days of video conferencing alone. The IT manager should not only have an eye for a well-functioning and safe home workplace. At the same time, the officials responsible for the deployment of technology must also consider to what extent this environment contributes to the digital happiness of employees and customers.
From functionality to digital happiness
During the annual Ignite event last October, Microsoft made a move. The software company announced new features in Teams and Outlook that should contribute to wellbeing and productivity. Have you already tried out the together mode? It merges the videofeed of the individual callers into a group. It looks like a gimmick, but combined with other new features that will be available early next year, according to Microsoft, this should all help with more connection, fun and well-being at work. For example, Teams will remind users to take a break during digital meetings. Another feature, the emotional check-in, can help to become mindful and possibly to share how you feel later in the call. Microsoft is also coming up with a virtual replacement for the commuter experience with the aim of making a more conscious transition from work to home. Perhaps the most interesting announcement is the integration with Headspace, known for their mindfulness and meditation app. This way you will be able to follow guided meditations from your Teams environment. According to Microsoft, the bundling of their new features will help to reduce the risk of burnouts.
Tools for managers
Of course, managers are also provided with specialized new tools. Particularly in the field of workplace analytics, which often provide quantitative insight into the way of working. Think of statistics about the degree of cooperation during and outside office hours, concentration time and the effectiveness of meetings. All tested against some sort of average for comparable teams. The idea is that managers have indicators that provide insight into the well-being and effectiveness of employees. In this way, managers are able to respond to irregular rhythms, undesirable and ineffective behavior. That should then contribute to the development of a culture in which well-being is the catalyst. Those are beautiful thoughts, of course. At the same time, the practice is more nuanced and complex. Various organizations have already been discredited because they quantified and qualified their employees in an indecent way. Privacy limits are easily exceeded under the guise of progress and the quality of the data is often overestimated. More importantly, the already diminished human contact is diminished again by focusing blindly on numbers instead of people. After all, the line between digital madness and well-being is sometimes wafer-thin.
In this quest for digital happiness, it remains important to keep an eye on people. We are way past the old dichotomy between digital or analog, one is not inherently good and the other is not inherently bad. We are now encountering the limitations of digitization and must find and explore these desirable new ways. Replacements or augmentations of those coincidental encounters in which that one colleague unintentionally provides a valuable insight. Or feeling the trust and autonomy to act as you see fit, but to remain close with colleagues. Because, no matter how cliché, it is easy to forget in the chaos: Organizations that want to continue to deliver value must ensure that their people are at their core. Even during the current digitization tsunami. This requires courage to experiment and look for the right approach. What is distracting and what adds value? What measures promote well being and which promote madness? Difficult? Hell yes. But the fact is that the IT manager, like no other, can make an important contribution to the growing importance of digital happiness.