My love-hate relationship with online working

In April 2019, I made a calculated leap of faith: I sold my pediatric Occupational Therapy practice at a school and ventured into the world of online work. The excitement of starting my morning routine in a home office was overwhelming. Being able to control my home environment was one of the deciding factors for this leap into the unknown. I painted my office walls in a soft neutral colour. A plant found it’s way onto my desk. On garden service days, I closed my office door and played calming music through headphones (don’t you just love the sound of a weedeater…). A jar of hand cream was placed within arm’s reach, mostly to be used when craving the lovely vanilla-smell filling the room when removing the lid. On cold winter days,  a heated foot mat kept me warm. Life was blissful and I felt so blessed to have changed my work life to fit my sensory needs.

As a sensory avoider with low sensory thresholds, I cope best with LESS sensory input. If an environment gets too busy and loud, my productivity levels drop and I then have to exert a lot of extra mental effort to maintain a high level of work. In a quieter, calmer, more relaxed environment, I thrive and feel healthier and happier. I love working alone in my own space… not that I’m a recluse (I hope not), it just fits my sensory style best. (If you’d like to discover your sensory style, complete your Sensory Matrix™ online)

What I did not bring into account when leaping into my new work adventure, was that I’ll be joining the digital world of online work consisting of a massive population. According to Internet World Stats, there were 4,833,521,806 global internet users on 30 June 2020. So much for solitary work! Within my little 13-inch laptop screen, I was connected to a whole new community. Exciting, yet overwhelming at times.

During the past 16 months, online working and I have gone through quite a few ups and downs, adding to my love-hate relationship with the digital world. I’d like to highlight some, it might just resonate with you if you’re also part of the online work community:

      An “off” button to switch everything off -vs- Nowhere to hide when you’re online

                                                   No need to travel for work -vs- A complete lack of movement while working     

Customization of your desktop display and icons -vs- A quick buildup of clutter on your desktop

                    The ability to stand up and walk away for a break -vs- The guilt of standing up and walking away from work

                                                        Flexible working hours -vs- Working longer hours due to a lack of routine

No time wasted making small talk with colleagues -vs- Missing small talk with colleagues

Control noise levels easier -vs- Eyes and ears are fixed on your small (but busy) digital world throughout the day

 

The list of pros and cons is endless and will vary for each person. However, digital work is here to stay. I realized it will be most beneficial to wrap my head around my digital environment and make the best of it. Some of the strategies I’ve implemented (and do my best to follow…) are:

  • Take short movement breaks. Your body and brain need it. 
  • Move my gaze away from my screen at times, to avoid “computer vision syndrome“.
  • I have raised my laptop and am using an external/additional keyboard to avoid a poor sitting posture.

There are lots more easy-to-implement strategies that we use as a virtual team at Sensory Intelligence® Consulting. Since your wellbeing matters to us, we’ve been sharing knowledge and ideas by means of our online workshops. To discover more simple, yet neuroscientific tools, follow the link to Digital wellness through the 7 senses. 

Take back control and be the master of your digital universe!

7 Tips to reduce digital fatigue

Our world has shrunk. Daily living before COVID-19 and lockdown meant moving around, driving, using public transport, being in traffic… whatever your mode of commute is. At the office or workplace, there was constant navigation between different spaces. You moved from your desk to a meeting room, cafeteria, bathroom, someone else’s desk, another meeting room, kitchen, printer, etc. The reality is that there was constant visual- (seeing) and auditory (hearing) variety while your body was physically (moving) between these spaces, regardless of your type of work or your working environment.  The current reality looks quite different: your working world is now about the size of your computer screen and its immediate surrounding space… and it is pretty small. Your eyes are in another kind of lockdown on your screen, particularly when you are in digital meetings. And your ears are trying to contest with the distractions of your screaming toddler, a hungry teenager (in my case), a barking dog, an irritable spouse, etc. This is happening while you are seated for much longer times than usual and your body is just not moving as much as it used to. 

The obvious result is a higher level of fatigue, headaches, joint strains and other physical body complaints.  Not to even mention the stress, irritation, mental pressure and anxiety coupled with it. Our bodies are taking physical strain and our minds are taking mental strain. That is an unfortunate fact. 

As sensory beings, we interact through our 7 senses in a dynamic way with our world. This constant navigation helps us to obtain a modulated response in how we focus, behave and emotionally respond. We need the ebb and flow of daily living through varied sensory stimulation to be our best.  With this in mind, we are using our specialist knowledge of neuroscience and sensory processing to add some practical insights into how you can make your digital world less stressful… and continue being your best: 

  1. Lower your expectations and don’t try to be the best at everything. We are all trying to juggle homeworking, managing our kids in a whole new way, homeschooling (and we are parents, not teachers), living in restricted and limited environments while trying to keep ourselves and our families together in one piece. 
  2. We are experiencing an influx of information and technology overload. Listen to your body and be mindful of the signals it is sending you. Are you feeling dizzy, lethargic, or tired? Do you have a headache? Are you feeling anxious? Your body will provide you with signals to show you if something is wrong.  Make a note, write down how you are feeling, the time of day and what you were busy doing before it happened. It helps to be more in tune with what is going on, reading your own signals and making the necessary adjustments before it turns bad. 
  3. How to maximize your auditory processing and reduce auditory overload:
    -For meetings, use a headset or earphones, particularly when you don’t have a quiet, designated workspace. It will reduce distractions for you as well as your online colleagues or audience. Sounds get amplified in online meetings and you might be conveying a different message than what you intended.
    -Test your microphone and sound prior to meetings. Set a volume that is comfortable for you.  Navigate between sound muted or unmuted where necessary. Mute your microphone particularly when there is an increase in background noise and if you are sneezing, coughing or drinking water. And obviously don’t eat anything when on a call. Not even gum… it looks and sounds dreadful.
    -Disable any sound notifications to reduce noise levels. It is extremely irritating to hear another person’s constant ping. And although intended to be background noise, the sound will be amplified for the others on the call. It will help everyone to be more focused and less distracted.  Have designated times when you check your email and messages to avoid constant interference while on calls or working on a task.
    -You can also revert to using the chat box instead of speaking when your microphone isn’t working when there are too many distractions or if you just don’t trust your voice at any given time. It does interfere with the level of human interaction but will reduce auditory overload.
  4. How to maximize your visual processing and reduce visual overload:
    -Check your positioning in the room for maximum use of light. Be mindful that the light should not be from behind as it will be difficult for others to see you clearly.  It is ideal to have incoming light from your front, i.e. sit in front of an open window. An alternative is to have a side lamp on your desk shining on your face.  Light will help you work better but also make you more visible and easier to see for your colleagues and thus improve human interaction.
    -Make sure your desktop and screen(s) are cleaned up and tidy. Clean your screen, reduce your icons and/or group them. Work with as little on-screen clutter as possible. Limit the number of tabs you have open. Set bookmarks for quick and easy access to your most-used apps or websites.
    -Set your screen brightness and type of background to your liking.  An image that provides joy and calmness is ideal. Some people prefer to have a single colour as a desktop background.
    -Having meetings without video is very impersonal and reduces human interaction. If WiFi connectivity is an issue then videos are disabled but it is always a pity and preferable to have it enabled. We have to work much harder to be “human” through our digital channels to make it as real as possible help. That includes showing off your face and your voice.  So make sure you are dressed and groomed properly. No pyjamas, no bed head, no beach clothing…
  5. How to maximize movement and self-regulate your body:
    -Movement breaks will be your number one priority to save your energy and lower your fatigue. The brain is designed to tap into movement brain breaks in order to function and focus optimally.  A water bottle next to you helps to hydrate you and then increases the need for bathroom breaks. The best and most effective self-regulation tool!
    -Having movement breaks between meetings is non-negotiable. If you go from meeting to meeting you are going to start talking rubbish as your brain will dip into fatigue. Even a quick leg stretch (2-5 minutes) can help. You can always negotiate with your meeting members to all have a quick stretch in longer meetings and return at a designated time.
    -Don’t have a movement break while you are on a call and move around excessively.  You will make the other people seasick, particularly if they are visually sensitive and in sensory overload. You can shift your body or move your position but don’t walk around with your phone or laptop while talking. If you do need to display anything to your group, make sure to keep your phone or laptop as steady as possible.
  6. Scheduling and time management for online working will depend on the amount of control you have over your schedule. Where possible keep 1-1 online meetings to a maximum of 30 minutes, group meetings to a maximum of 60 minutes and webinars or training to a maximum of 90 minutes. When the group is bigger, there will be less focus on one particular individual which makes it easier to go for longer periods of time. If you can negotiate schedules with your work colleagues, family and children that is ideal.  Sticking to a routine for homeschooling your children will not only make their lives but also yours much easier. Kids need and love routine. Therefore try and create a clear routine at home during the lockdown. And write it down or draw simple pictures so it makes it easier for them to follow.
  7. Sensory styles are a great way to help us understand our environments and navigate best. We are all unique and different. We process the world differently. What works for some won’t work for others. Sensory sensitivity and avoiding behaviours occur for 25% of the population: this group will most likely get overloaded faster by their digital environment. They will take more care and effort to reduce overload. Sensory-seeking behaviours occur for 36% of the population: they take longer to get overloaded. However, they usually realize it too late and they are more likely to crash “unexpectedly”. For 39% of the population, the environment has a neutral impact: they can navigate fairly easily and are flexible within their work- and online environments.  This is the beauty of human genes and makeup. Completing your Sensory Matrix™ will help you to be more in tune with your needs and make your accommodations personalized. 

 

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” – Alan Watts