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April 23, 2020

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Technology

Digital humanity and its effects on employee health

A look at how technology is bringing people together during this time of remote living and working, and social distancing. This article highlights the ways in which technology is being used to connect with humans – and the benefits for employee health.

By Nic Girvan, Global Head of Digital Training at diversity and inclusion training consultancy PDT Global.

smartphoneFor years, we worried that technology was dehumanising interactive communication. Beginning with the first movement from calls to emails, then from text messages to status updates and the behaviour of young children with smart devices at the breakfast table, society feared that digitalisation would lead to the decline of human interaction. However, in such dark and unusual times as those of 2020, that ‘technifear’ has almost vanished overnight – because, right now, it is the digital touch that is helping the isolated individual feel human again.

Globally, the spread of COVID-19 has resulted in national quarantines, community lockdowns and self-isolation. Families find themselves disconnected, the elderly isolated and workers around the world face new challenges not previously considered – whether that be key workers’ risk of exposure or corporate workers’ solitary confinements.

During these times, we discover how much of our lives we have taken for granted. The quick nip to the shops for a loaf of bread, the daily coffee break and surrounding office chatter, the hug from a friend after a bad day or the holiday getaway planned months in advance. All of a sudden, all we have are the four walls of our household and a digital connection… But that digital connection provides us with a portal to the outside world – whether that be shopping, socialising or discovering what’s on your very own doorstep.

Solidarity

I have lived on my street for nine years. I always smile at those around me, say hello to the passing dog walker and take in parcels for the couple down the street. But outside of these small pleasantries, until quarantine I had not invested more than that. Since lockdown, however, everything has changed. From the young to the old, the households of the street have connected through a digital community chat group. We share our daily challenges and successes, and we offer support to each other, as well as our resources. We tell jokes, share life stories and commit to community activities, whether that be planning a street party for when the storm passes or putting up rainbows in our front windows as a gesture of solidarity. Without technology, I would continue to know only a handful of people down my street; our elderly would be forced to go out to get their own provisions and, for those living alone, the solitude would be oppressive.

It’s not just neighbours that technology connects – it’s counties, nations, even the world. On a cold evening in March, our national celebration for healthcare workers took place. No event planners required. No RSVPs sent and yet, at 8pm that night, cheers rang out from open windows, claps resonated from occupied doorsteps and the banging of pots and pans from balconies cut through the night air. A nation joined in a collective act, a movement galvanised through digital social networking. This ripple started from one person and spread across Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and in many more ways and has continued each week since. In a time when you can’t shake a hand or give a hug, technology found a way to bolster human spirit and re-energise a weary workforce.

Apply the same value to your virtual workforce. For those who have never worked remotely before, the world has become incredibly insular. Picking up the phone, sending a message or chatting over virtual platforms can feel like a bigger task than the usual leaning over to a colleague with a quick question. Break these barriers and use technology to awaken human unity. Start by turning on your camera for that conference call – let others see your face, even if you are not looking your finest. Host virtual coffee breaks where you just talk. Talk about your current view, introduce your pet to the camera, display your favorite mug – remind others of you. Not your job role. Not your profile picture. Not that transactional directive. Share your essence and remind those working alongside you of that easy communication we all once took for granted.

After years of fearing digital dehumanisation, our world has changed, our positions have changed and we are making – and living through – history. Our reliance on technology means we are making more time for each other in a virtual space, more than many of us ever had in a physical one. Right now, we are in isolation together. But, thanks to technology, we do not need to do it alone.

SHP has put together a guide to home working, to provide research, case studies, videos and resources to enable you to lead this transition in a way which safeguards the wellbeing of your teams and maximises the opportunity to embrace new ways of working for the future.

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