How to deal with digital communications overload
Posted by Jen Derrick on 16 October 2020

Ever since lockdown, many of us have been grappling with a problem that’s been chipping away at our mental health: digital communications overload.

With a large proportion of us now working remotely, we can no longer ‘just quickly’ ask another team member a simple question over the desk. The change in working environment has meant many of us are now interacting via an unhealthy number of digital tools, such as email, Slack, Zoom and Microsoft Teams instead.

Multiple pieces of technology on a table

On one hand, it’s great that processes have revolutionised so much that we can access everything digitally, but on the other hand, it’s also becoming harmful to some people’s wellbeing. When there are a tonne of messages that need replying to on several channels, it can feel overwhelming, not to mention having to get to grips with how each of the platforms work.

There’s also the added pressure of feeling like you must have apps open at all times to avoid missing important updates. When you’ve got several tools pinging off every few minutes, it can make it extremely hard to concentrate.

In addition, with so many people working from home, the barriers between when a workday starts, and ends, are becoming increasingly blurred. As we can access the tools at our fingertips, there’s a temptation to use them outside of working hours, making it harder for fellow colleagues to switch off during downtime.

Man sits in the corner of a room with to do lists flying at him

Some of us are becoming increasingly side-tracked and are at risk of burning out if the problem continues to be left unmanaged. So, what can we do to effectively use communication tools safely, in a way that doesn’t take a toll on our mental health? In light of Mental Health Awareness Week, we’ve rounded up our top tips for staying on top of digital communications.

Set clear digital communications expectations

Just hearing a chime of an email, or an app, can throw you off course from what you’re doing. If you’re a manager, try to set clear boundaries for each channel i.e., which platform should be used when, and decide on their priority level. Some tools may be less important than others, so it’s vital that there’s clarity around this. The response time will obviously vary between each and this should be outlined clearly.

Be upfront about response times for each channel

Many of us have an in-built expectation that we must answer emails and messages straight away. But that’s not always necessary, or appropriate.  If you’re sending an email that doesn’t require an immediate response, state that in your message. If you’re a manager, you could set times for your team when emails should be answered, e.g., at the beginning of the day, after lunch, and just before the end of the day. This can help limit disruption so that employees don’t feel the need to respond when they’re in the middle of doing something else.

Define what warrants an urgent response

There will, of course, be times when you do need an urgent reply, so make this clear by putting a procedure in place. It could be as simple as telling staff to mark their subject line with “urgent response needed”. That way, they can easily distinguish what constitutes an emergency and what doesn’t. Another way to manage digital communications is to define the correct tool to use when you need an urgent response. For example, an instant messaging service, such as Slack, might be the most appropriate channel for when you need a quick answer. Remember, instant messages are harder to ignore than emails, so they should only be used when absolutely necessary.

Put do not disturb on

Many tools have the functionality to switch “do not disturb” on, but it’s easy to forget about this handy feature. Openly encourage workers to use it when they have hard deadlines and need space to focus. You could also encourage staff to remove push notifications on their phones and laptops, so they don’t get constant alerts all the time.

Avoid cc’ing in people unless it’s absolutely necessary

There’s a natural tendency to copy colleagues into messages to ensure they are always kept in the loop. But, in a time where communications are being sent left, right and centre, think twice about whether the people you’ve cc’d in really need to be involved or not. Limiting some of the small distractions like this can make all the difference.

Communication overload can not only impact some people’s mental health, but also productivity levels, too. So, it’s worth implementing some basic guidelines and refreshing your practices to benefit everyone. That way, you can all cross more things off your to-do list.

For more tips on how to support mental health in the workplace, keep an eye out for a future blog discussing the importance of flexibility on our mental health . Our toolkits also provide insightful guidance around promoting better mental health at work.

“Since day one, Amy herself has fit seamlessly into our team, understanding the message we want to convey and the audiences we want to reach. Her upfront audit was invaluable in helping us internally hone our common voice, which has demonstrated itself in the consistency of the content we put out as a brand and as individuals within the company. Behind the scenes, Amy has instinctively adopted our internal communication methods (Slack, SharePoint) and works closely with our in-house graphic design team to ensure our graphics and copy are in sync.” Lucy Prior MBE - previously from 3Squared 2021
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“I met Amy a few years ago at a Young Rail Professionals event and was able to provide her with an opportunity to manage the comms on a major alliance which she flourished at. Soon after she started, Marie came along to provide HR support across the multiple businesses. It seems only natural that being as dynamic and knowledge as they are, they are looking to work together on this new venture, which I am sure will be a huge success.” Karen Duncan - Lanehead Coniston
“I saved so much time after implementing a more structured approach which has given me the opportunity to focus on creating more content and work more closely with my clients. Amy and her team are easy to deal with and are quick to provide valuable solutions. I would not hesitate to work with Hey Me again in the future.” Karen Duncan - Lanehead Coniston

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