Tech Insight : Could ‘Digital Mindfulness’ Reduce Your Tech Stress?

In this insight, we look at what ‘digital mindfulness’ is, how it could help you and your business, and what challenges there are to introducing it.

The ‘Digital Stress’ Problem 

Although the digital age has revolutionised work in terms of levels of productivity and connectivity, it has come at a cost. A significant challenge emerging in the workplace is digital stress, sometimes called ‘technostress,’ a phenomenon increasingly recognised for its detrimental effects on employees’ mental and physical health. This issue is characterised by the stress, anxiety, and burnout resulting from the relentless pace of digital communications, the pressure to remain always ‘on’, and the blurring lines between work and personal life. This constant connectivity, while purportedly beneficial to a business has actually introduced a new stressor into the workplace (technostress) which can come from the anxiety and discomfort stemming from overuse or inefficient usage of technology.

The Scope of the Issue 

There has been quite a lot of research into the issue which has shed some light on the magnitude of this problem. For example:

– A Gallup report (2021) highlighted how 44 per cent of the global workforce experienced workplace stress in 2021 (an increase on the previous year). In the US and Canada, for example, this number is even more alarming, with 50 per cent of the workforce reporting stress in the workplace (CFAH, 2024), positioning these regions as some of the highest for workplace stress globally.

– Also in the US, the American Institute of Stress has noted that more than 8 out of 10 US workers suffer from work-related stress, with 25 per cent identifying their job as the number one stressor in their lives.

– In the UK, stress levels vary by department, with employees within customer service reporting the highest levels of stress at 25 per cent. Interestingly, stress appears to affect women 25 per cent more than men, with work-related stress hitting working mothers 40 per cent harder than their childless counterparts (Spill, 2024).

– Financial stress is, not surprisingly, also a significant contributor to workplace anxiety. According to PwC’s annual (2023) Employee Financial Wellness Survey, 41 per cent of workers who feel financial stress also say that this affects their productivity at work.

The Impact on Health and Productivity 

The consequences of digital stress / technostress extend beyond personal health, affecting organisational outcomes and economic costs. For example:

– 20,000 deaths annually in the US are attributed to work-related stress, with businesses losing up to $300 billion each year due to productivity losses linked to this stress (Spill, 2024).

– Also, stress leads to absenteeism. In the UK (ONS, 2021) mental health conditions, which can include stress, were one of the top reasons for sickness absence, demonstrating the impact of work-related stress on overall employee well-being and productivity.

– In the US, it’s a similar picture, with a million Americans taking time off work each day with stress, thereby perhaps indicating how pervasive and damaging unmanaged stress can be to both individuals and organisations.

Addressing The Problem 

These statistics underscore the urgent need for strategies like using ‘digital mindfulness,’ which aims to cultivate a healthier relationship with technology.

What Is Mindfulness and How Is ‘Digital Mindfulness’ Different? 

Mindfulness, originating from Buddhist meditation practices, is the psychological process of bringing your attention to experiences occurring in the present moment (‘the now’).  Research in neuroscience shows that mindfulness training can actually rewire brain circuits associated with stress, attention, and emotional regulation. For instance, a study published in the journal “Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging” showed that an eight-week mindfulness meditation program led to increased density in the hippocampus, a region associated with memory and learning, and decreased density in the amygdala, which is linked to anxiety and stress responses.

Digital Mindfulness is a concept that adapts traditional mindfulness principles to our interactions with digital technology. It involves being consciously aware and intentional about how we use digital devices and online platforms, aiming to foster a balanced, reflective, and engaged approach to technology, counteracting the autopilot mode with which we often engage with digital devices. This practice encourages individuals to recognise and mitigate the potential for technology to contribute to stress, distraction, and disconnection from the physical world, promoting healthier digital habits and well-being.

The Benefits 

By integrating (digital) mindfulness practices into the workplace, businesses can mitigate the adverse effects of digital stress, improving employee well-being and productivity.

Digital mindfulness also offers a pathway toward a more balanced digital work life (something of real value to employees), encouraging employees to engage with technology intentionally and mindfully, thus reducing the likelihood of stress and burnout.

How? 

Some of the ways that businesses can introduce digital mindfulness to the workplace include:

– Introducing ‘taster’ sessions, i.e. introductory sessions led by skilled practitioners to allow employees to experience mindfulness benefits firsthand.

– Offering training and resources. Supplying formal training and access to mindfulness apps or resources for guided practices.

– Designating a quiet space. Providing a dedicated area for meditation or quiet reflection, free from workplace distractions.

– Encouraging daily practice: Fostering a habit of regular mindfulness breaks among employees to help detach from work momentarily, enhancing focus and rejuvenation.

– Cultivating mindful leaders. Training leaders in mindfulness to model and promote mindful practices within their teams, enhancing overall workplace mindfulness.

However, for a better chance of success, employees must be engaged from the start, understanding their interest in and preferences for mindfulness activities to ensure the program meets their needs. Also, the purpose of it within the organisation needs to be clarified, and active participation and endorsement needs to be secured from senior management to underscore the initiative’s importance and encourage wider adoption.

What’s The Evidence? Does It Work? 

The effectiveness of digital mindfulness is backed by research highlighting its positive impacts on mental health and workplace productivity. For example, a study from the University of California, Irvine, found that employees who practiced mindfulness techniques reported a 27 per cent reduction in stress levels. Also, a program aimed at reducing digital distractions through mindfulness practices at a multinational corporation led to a 31 per cent drop in reported stress among participants and a 26 per cent increase in focus on tasks. These statistics underscore the real benefits that mindfulness can introduce to a technology-saturated work environment, including improved emotional well-being, enhanced concentration, and lower instances of burnout.

Challenges in Learning and Implementing Mindfulness 

Despite its benefits, the path to integrating mindfulness, especially in a digital context, can have its challenges. Scepticism about its effectiveness, the perceived time investment, and the irony of leveraging digital platforms to escape the downsides of digital overuse are common hurdles. However, incremental steps, such as designated tech-free periods and mindfulness meditation breaks during the workday, can facilitate a smoother transition. Encouragement from leadership and success stories within the organisation can also help overcome initial resistance.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

For businesses, the adoption of digital mindfulness may qwll be more than just a wellness initiative and once it’s learned, its power shouldn’t be underestimated. In fact, many businesses now see it as worthwhile as a strategic investment in the digital age. This is because the benefits extend beyond individual well-being to impacting organisational health too, by driving down stress-related costs and increasing productivity. Companies that cultivate a culture of digital mindfulness can, therefore, expect to see not only happier employees but also a more focused, efficient, and innovative workforce. To embark on this journey, however, businesses can start by offering workshops on digital mindfulness, and how to integrate mindfulness practices into daily routines, and promoting a culture where disconnection is respected and valued. Possibly easier said than done!

By confronting the realities of so-called ‘technostress’ head-on and embracing digital mindfulness, businesses can foster an environment where technology isn’t a source of endless distraction and stress.

Tech Insight : A Dozen Ways Copilot Can Help Your Business

With Microsoft’s Copilot AI assistant now embedded within the Microsoft 365 apps and services to help users save time and increase productivity, we look at a dozen things you can do with Copilot to help your business.

Microsoft 365 Copilot 

Copilot fuses ChatGPT version 4 and Microsoft Graph. More specifically, Copilot is designed to integrate the capabilities of ChatGPT version 4 (a sophisticated language model developed by OpenAI), with the extensive data and connectivity provided by Microsoft Graph.

Microsoft Graph is an API platform that enables developers to access and integrate data and insights from various Microsoft services and applications, such as Office 365, Windows 10, and Enterprise Mobility + Security, facilitating the creation of rich, interconnected applications within the Microsoft ecosystem.

This integration allows Copilot to leverage the conversational AI capabilities of ChatGPT in conjunction with the rich data ecosystem of Microsoft 365, enhancing productivity and offering more advanced features within Microsoft’s suite of applications.

Microsoft says Copilot can increase an employee’s productivity by as much as 50 per cent and that it can unlock the other 90 per cent of things that its apps can do that most users never try.

A Dozen Ways Copilot Can Help 

With this in mind, here are a dozen ways that you can use Copilot to help with your business:

1. Automating Customer Service Responses 

Copilot can manage routine customer service queries by providing instant, accurate responses to FAQs. This helps by reducing wait times and improving customer satisfaction. It can also act as a way to identify and escalate the more complex issues to human representatives, ensuring a balance between efficiency and having a personal touch.

2. Generating Reports and Summaries 

Microsoft 365 Copilot can also analyse large sets of data to generate detailed reports and executive summaries. This can be really helpful in identifying key metrics and trends, which are essential for strategic planning and decision-making, without the need for manual data crunching. This is an important way that Copilot can save time and effort and add more transparency to a business.

3. Drafting and Editing All Manner Of Business Documents 

Copilot assists in creating professional business documents, emails, and presentations. It offers suggestions on content, structure, and style, ensuring that the documents are not only well-written but also tailored to their intended audience. Again, this can save time and improve productivity but also improve the quality of business communications.

4. Data Analysis and Insights 

By analysing complex datasets, Copilot can uncover valuable insights, helping businesses understand customer behaviour, market trends, and operational efficiency. This leads to more informed decision-making and strategy development.

5. Scheduling and Calendar Management 

It streamlines calendar management by scheduling meetings, appointments, and events based on your availability. It can also send automated reminders and updates, ensuring efficient time management and reducing scheduling conflicts.

6. Training and Educational Resources 

Copilot can create custom training materials and educational content that are specifically tailored to a company’s processes and systems. This can help in onboarding new employees more efficiently and keeping the workforce updated on new tools and practices. This can, of course, also save money on training and potentially improve the efficiency of training (because it can be more targeted and customised).

7. Automating Routine Tasks 

For tasks like data entry, inventory management, and basic accounting, Copilot can automate these processes, thereby reducing the risk of human error and allowing employees to focus on more strategic and creative tasks.

8. Language Translation and Localisation 

Microsoft Copilot can also be used to facilitate global business operations by translating documents and communications into various languages, ensuring that businesses can effectively communicate with international clients and partners.

9. Market Research and Analysis 

Copilot can scour the internet and various databases to conduct market research, analyse industry trends, and provide actionable insights, helping businesses stay ahead in their market.

10. Social Media Management 

Copilot can also help with creating, scheduling, and analysing social media posts. Copilot can also track engagement metrics, thereby helping businesses understand their audience better and refine their social media strategies.

11. Project Management Assistance  

Microsoft 365 Copilot can also help with tracking project milestones, resource allocation, and progress updates. This can ensure that projects stay on track, resources are efficiently used, and stakeholders are kept informed.

12. Legal and Compliance Documentation 

One other really helpful aspect of Copilot is that it can assist in drafting legal documents and ensure that business operations comply with relevant laws and regulations. This is crucial for mitigating legal risks and maintaining a company’s reputation.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

The integration of Microsoft’s Copilot AI into the Microsoft 365 suite is a significant advancement for 365 and for business technology generally. With Copilot embedded in popular 365 apps, businesses now have a powerful ‘always on’ tool at their disposal to help with productivity, efficiency, creativity, adding value, and more. As such, this integration goes beyond mere convenience, and it taps into the unrealised potential of Microsoft 365, unlocking functionalities that many users have yet to explore, i.e. it can help businesses to leverage (and get more out of) what they’re already paying for from Microsoft.

By being able to quickly and easily automate tasks, e.g. from customer service to complex data analysis, Copilot not only saves time but also enhances creativity and leaves employees free to focus on more strategic and innovative tasks, thereby elevating the quality of work and driving business growth. Also, Copilot’s intuitive, natural language capabilities, akin to those of ChatGPT version 4, make it a user-friendly assistant that can simplify complex tasks and make technology more accessible to everyone in the organisation.

Copilot, therefore, serves as a tool for upskilling employees. It exposes them to a broader range of Microsoft 365 capabilities, fostering a deeper understanding and more efficient use of the software. This aspect of Copilot is particularly valuable as it achieves upskilling organically, without the need for additional training resources. It could be said that Copilot is not just enhancing productivity, but it’s also expanding the technological proficiency of the entire workforce.

For businesses, in addition to streamlining operations, Copilot can also help deliver a competitive edge e.g., the insights gleaned from Copilot’s data analysis and market research capabilities can inform strategic decisions, offering a clearer view of market trends and customer behaviours. Its ability to handle language translations and ensure compliance with legal standards positions businesses for global reach and operational safety may also be of real use for many businesses.

Microsoft 365 Copilot, therefore, is more than an incremental update to business software, but could prove to a transformative tool that can significantly enhance how businesses operate (if businesses make sure they use it). The rewards for using what is a comprehensive, and relatively easy-to-use solution that unlocks the power of the 365 apps could be to propel your businesses into a new era of efficiency and innovation.

Tech News : Study Shows 20% Of Time Wasted Within IT

A study by the University of Copenhagen and Roskilde University has revealed that computer problems are responsible for us wasting between 11 and 20 per cent of our time.

How The Study Worked 

The study involved 234 participants, in varying jobs (and education) including students, accountants, consultants and IT workers who spent between six and eight hours in front of a computer in their day-to-day work. The researchers told them to report the situations in which the computer would not work properly, or where they were frustrated about not being able to perform the task they wanted.

The Results 

The results showed that on average, we waste between 11 and 20 per cent of our time in front of our computers on systems that do not work or that are so difficult to understand that we simply cannot perform the task we want to.

Some of the problems most often reported by participants included: “the system was slow,” “the system froze temporarily,” “the system crashed,” “it is difficult to find things.”

The two biggest categories of problems revealed by the study were insufficient performance and lack of user-friendliness. Also, the participants in the survey said that 84 per cent of the episodes had occurred before and that 87 per cent of the episodes could happen again.

The Reasons? 

According to Professor Kasper Hornbæk, one of the researchers, one the main reasons they still malfunction so much (even though computers are now better than 15 years ago), is “ordinary people aren’t involved enough when the systems are developed”. 

Professor Morten Hertzum, the other researcher behind the study, also highlights that some issues seem to keep occurring, saying: “The frustrations are not due to people using their computers for something highly advanced, but because they experience problems in their performance of everyday tasks. This makes it easier to involve users in identifying problems. But it also means that problems that are not identified and solved will probably frustrate a large number of users.” 

Also, the Professor points out, user-expectations play a part in their experience of computer issues. For example, the professor says that although “Our technology can do more today, and it has also become better” it seems that “at the same time, we expect more from it”. He cites the example that, “Even though downloads are faster now, they are often still experienced as frustratingly slow. ” 

Lost Productivity 

With 88 per cent of Danes using computers, laptops, smartphones, tablets, or other mobile devices at work (2018), the results of the study show that computer problems could be having a massive impact on productivity, perhaps a half to an entire day of a normal working week may be wasted on computer problems.

Also, as Professor Hornbæk points out, daily computer problems cause “a lot of frustrations for the individual user.”  

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

If the UK businesses experience similar levels of computer problems as those suggested by this study, many may be losing money daily from the negative effects on productivity. There’s clearly room for improvement and, as highlighted by the researchers suggest, “there are no poor IT users, only poor systems” and that IT developers involving users more when designing the systems to make them as easy to use and understand may go some way towards reducing time lost through computer problems.

As the researchers highlighted, making users look at an incomprehensible box with commands or a frozen computer screen when problems occur may likely cause frustration and stress. Instead, if the computer could solve the problems without displaying commands/boxes while providing a back-up version of the system for users, this could help by enabling users to continue their work. Those designing computer systems / operating systems therefore need to take account not just of modern demands and expectations of computers, but should also focus on maximising user-friendliness, addressing common problems, and providing simple backup / workaround routes that could keep work and productivity flowing and save businesses money.

This may be an area of opportunity where AI could help in designing systems, monitoring, and diagnosing problems, ironing-out faults as they occur, and in providing help and directions to users.