The challenges of harnessing hyperconnectivity in the workplace

As technology develops, it is bringing many challenges to the workplace – most importantly, how it will improve the way that we work and also impact our wellbeing.

“Something like three quarters of UK employees are now favouring jobs which give them the option to work a flexible work schedule, picking and choosing the hours that work best for them. But this means businesses must make sure they have the right instruments in place and leaders who encourage flexible working behaviours,” Virgin’s global head of brand, Lisa Thomas, says in a recent article for Campaign magazine.

The interest in remote working is only going to grow over coming years and in our podcast series, Future Visions, we looked 20 years into the future to explore the tools that the future workforce will need. With 37 per cent of the current global workforce already operating remotely, it could be expected that there will come a day where businesses no longer require offices but neuroscientist Araceli Camargo argued in the podcast that we will not see the death of the workplace. Instead, she suggested that it will be redesigned to help address the most important issues face-to-face. Businesses like Google, Tesla and NASA are already encouraging in-person discussions to better facilitate problem-solving, which Lisa says “encourages flexible working through the acknowledgement that not every problem needs to be sorted out in the office, but there are times when it’s needed”.

However, as great as flexible working and the technology that enables it is, Lisa notes the negative impact it can have. “Employees are connected 24:7, but that’s not always good for employees’ wellbeing and we need to make sure we’re giving them a chance to disconnect.

“At Virgin Management, we also have one eye on the future. We’ve embraced a number of innovations over the last few years including flexible working, unlimited leave and more recently a digital detox – all emails are switched off over a period of time every Wednesday.”

The purpose of this, Lisa says, is to help employees to remember that “it’s ok not to be connected to your inbox every hour of the day”. And it’s worked – employees have formed a running club, a book club and often arrange guest speakers to come in during digital detox.

“The ease of working remotely removes the restrictions of the outdated nine-to-five structure, which traditionally is beneficial to the stereotypes of white-collar males,” Lisa says. “Instead we’re creating a rich environment for everyone – who can work when, where and how it suits them. It becomes a setting which inspires collaboration, mentoring and disruption.”

Lisa adds that during her time in the workplace she’s seen technologies come and go – and that when technology fails, it’s because its benefits haven’t been understood. She warns: “We are in danger of heading down that path again; our trust in connectivity is probably at a very low point considering recent headlines relating to our data.

“But, given the challenges ahead of us around the need for more flexibility and a great integration of the [five generation] workforce, we have to see the positives which can come from technology.

“It’s not about letting it control our lives, but introducing it in ways which help us to live life better. Whether through health apps, remote working or even detoxes to boost good digital decision making – technology can be a force for good. Let’s harness it as such.”