How to support digital wellness for remote IT workers

In part two of our article series on organizational best practices for digital wellness, let’s look at how Major League Baseball and Red Bull Racing support the well-being of their remote IT workers.

ARTICLE | 6m read
March 23, 2021

During a long year of lockdowns and remote work, few employees were more relied upon than IT workers. From distributing and authorizing countless WFH devices to ensuring high network performance from any location, IT departments stepped up in a big way during the pandemic. Their dedicated efforts to cram a multi-year remote work revolution into a few weeks made it possible for their colleagues to stay productive during a global disruption. In short, our remote work world is only possible because of IT teams going above and beyond.

However, no one can operate on surge capacity for long without it impacting their physical or mental health—and IT workers are no exception. As company leaders look for ways to restore and support digital wellness for all their employees, it’s important to recognize the unique circumstances that IT teams face. In this article, we will draw on advice and best practices from the IT departments at Red Bull Racing and Major League Baseball to show how to best improve digital well-being for IT workers.

The state of digital wellness for remote IT workers in 2021

The early months of the pandemic were the first time remote work became primary for many IT workers. While this situation had its challenges, IT workers did a stellar job adapting to the new situation and embracing its possibilities. As Red Bull Racing’s Head of IT Infrastructure and Operations Chris Middleton said, “We continued to be productive working from home. That flexibility made people feel empowered to be more flexible with their workspace and with their time, so it produced really positive results.” Middleton’s team not only kept up with their own work, but even supported members of the engineering team to work on developing prototype ventilator technology for hospitals.

But even as IT workers accomplished great things, long months of remote work have seen 77 percent of IT teams report higher stress. To fight burnout, MLB director of infrastructure program management Travis Neal said we must be honest about it and plan for it: “Everyone’s got different struggles and challenges, so let's accept that burnout happens and be empathetic and flexible. So, when a person hits their limit, we can be predictive and say ‘You’ve got too much on your plate. Let me pull back and push the timelines that might not be reasonable.’ As a manager, it means giving my team the support that they need.”

The role of technology in improving digital wellness for IT workers

Technology has always had a role in mitigating burnout and supporting digital wellness among IT workers—for example, workspaces that reduce context switching between apps can prevent productivity losses up to 40 percent. But in this new era of flexible work, technology like virtualization was especially crucial to remote IT workers. As Middleton described, “To enable our team to have that rich design experience when they don't have a top of the range CAD workstation at home, we used virtual desktops technology that integrated from their laptop through to their CAD workstation at the campus. They can do their job about 30 percent faster than they would with a normal mouse. So we're able to mobilize a remote workforce of 500 people using the same tool set that they've always used in the comfort and safety of their own home.”

Beyond these specific solutions, having a resilient and proactive technology strategy was also key to building wellness among remote IT teams. As Neal said, “When the baseball season was delayed, that gave us more time to be proactive. We took concepts from software design to be iterative in our process design. So by the time the season got rolling, our joke was this is one of the most calm Opening Days that we've had. Because we had tested our systems and our infrastructure, so there was no scramble at the last minute. We learned we can impact our mental health, our team wellness, and our teamwork loads by being proactive and creating the space for teams to solve their problems in a way they would like to have them solved.”

WE CAN IMPACT OUR TEAM WELLNESS BY BEING PROACTIVE AND CREATING SPACE FOR TEAMS TO SOLVE THEIR PROBLEMS IN A WAY THEY WOULD LIKE.

Travis Neal
Director of Infrastructure Program Management
MLB

What IT managers can do to promote well-being for IT teams

In addition to technology and process improvements, both Middleton and Neal were vocal about the role of management in improving digital wellness for IT workers. Some of the most important qualities in an effective manager are trust and flexibility. “If you trust people, they will repay the trust,” said Middleton. “If people feel trusted, they feel empowered and when they feel positive about the work that they're doing, then you'll get the best out of them. That helps me adapt people's working patterns during the day for what works best for them. I also encourage my team to go outside during lunchtime and get some fresh air, see the sunshine, then come back in recharged.”

Another wellness best practice for IT managers is focusing on efficient communication, which has become especially important after a year of working remotely. “You need communication to make sure teams are aligned, but now that everyone has gotten hit with Zoom fatigue, I probably spend 30 minutes a week asking myself ‘Does this meeting really need to be a meeting?’” said Neal. “Using Slack channels and shared documents helps us all work from a single point of truth, and cuts out hours of meetings. You just have to be inclusive with technology and bring everyone along to all the different tools we can use.”

Make digital wellness an ongoing priority for IT leaders

The last year has been a hard one. As organizations look to rebuild digital wellness among all employees,  IT departments have a critical role to play in enabling strong communication, collaboration, and community. The good news is that all these efforts are paying off in enabling a healthier and happier world after the pandemic. As Neal concludes, “Spring and baseball go hand in hand. And the amount of pride that our people have in knowing they’re going to be part of this rejuvenation is really enjoyable. It’s like we know something new and positive is going to come.”

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