Digital transformation should be a means to an end, but it often gets mistaken for an end in itself. This is partly why 70% of all digital transformation efforts fail — because they’re done purely for the sake of going digital without full consideration of the bigger picture.
The pandemic accelerated many trends, from streaming, e-commerce, and food delivery platforms to the widespread adoption of remote work. But instead of taking advantage of this opportunity to improve how we work, most organizations simply took their offices online, along with the bad habits that permeated them.
During the pandemic, most organizations got no further than level two of WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg’s five levels of distributed teams framework. Instead of back-to-back meetings, people got back-to-back Zoom calls. Instead of physical interruptions, they got more interruptions via Slack or Teams.
Despite the elimination of commute times, people ended up working longer hours and less efficiently than before, resulting in more excessive workloads and less work-life balance, two key drivers of workplace stress. Today, 83% of American workers suffer from workplace stress, with Gallup finding that a similar number of people globally — 85% — are not engaged at work.
The pandemic, of course, exacerbated all of this, as this meta-analysis published in Nature notes higher rates of anxiety and depression globally due to Covid-19. This is nothing short of tragic when we consider that most adults spend about half of their waking hours at work.
Changing How We Do Remote Work
A move to a better way of working remotely is desperately needed. And it has prompted calls from a number of governments and business leaders worldwide to legislate the right to disconnect — a proposed human right with respect to disconnecting from work-related electronic communication during non-work hours, something that France introduced in 2016. But telling people to log off at 5 p.m. misses the point entirely, because it fails to address the reason for excessive workloads and rising stress — that is, how we work.
Well-meaning band-aid solutions achieve little if the toxic norms that rob knowledge workers of autonomy and control remain in place. We can help remote workers get on top of their workloads and mitigate work-life balance conflicts by moving away from hyper-responsiveness and real-time communication towards greater asynchronous communication — the type that truly gives people the freedom to decide when and where to work.
However, as James Clear, author of bestseller Atomic Habits puts it, “You do not rise to the level of your goals. Your fall to the level of your systems.”
The following tools can help leaders implement systems to influence how we work for the better.