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Questions are the Answer



Rebecca Kirstein Resch - CEO, inqli
Dana Fulwiler Volk - Master of Applied Positive Psychology, UPenn

Executive Summary

Technology is intertwined with every aspect of our work lives, yet its impact on productivity and human connection is paradoxically complex. For better or worse, new tools are embedded into our lives and workplaces before we have a chance to truly consider their potential consequences. This paper argues for an accelerated shift toward a human-centric approach to technology, connection, and learning opportunities in the workplace to more intentionally foster human outcomes – including connection, energy, and well-being – that lead to business productivity and innovation.

According to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity fell in 2022 to its lowest level since 1947, contrasting sharply with the expected efficiency gains from technology. This is in parallel to alarming rates of technology use; data gathered by the Digital Wellness Institute's Impact Study shared that employees spend an average of 11.8 hours daily on work-related technology. Tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams have transformed communication and broken down geographical and team barriers, while personalized learning software revolutionizes education access. Yet, this technological embrace brings an undercurrent, blurring the line between enhanced connectivity and growing isolation. Why, amidst unparalleled access to information and tools, do feelings of lagging behind and loneliness escalate?

With loneliness on the rise, as underscored by the US Surgeon General's 2023 report, this paper emphasizes the necessity of intentional, purposeful technology design and use to democratize access to knowledge and enhance human energy (rather than deplete it). It explores how technology, when aligned with human-centric organizational values, can support productivity and innovation while nurturing social connections and community in the workplace. This exploration is crucial in a world where technology holds bittersweet potential, capable of both connecting and isolating us, and where the responsibility for digital wellness is increasingly shared between employers and employees.

Part 1 expands a 20+ year conversation beyond workforce engagement to include the root causes of “The Human Energy Urgency,” characterized by unprecedented levels of burnout, disengagement, and a search for purpose. This alarming trend, now recognized by major global entities like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations (UN), has led to a staggering loss in productivity, estimated at $8.8 trillion globally. Deloitte's Well-Being at Work Survey exposes a critical disconnect between C-suite perceptions and employee realities, revealing an urgent need for a shift in leadership focus towards sustainable, human-centric solutions. With a large percentage of employees and executives considering leaving their jobs for better well-being support, the paper emphasizes that addressing this crisis requires more than temporary fixes; it demands a strategic, holistic approach to foster long-term human sustainability and meaningful connections, akin to the urgency and coordinated response seen in global health crises.

The foundation of connection and community for a thriving work environment is discussed in Part 2. The US Surgeon General's Framework for Workplace Mental Health and Well-Being identifies Connection and Community as key "engines of well-being," yet research from BetterUp reveals a stark "connection crisis" in organizations. This crisis manifests in significant numbers of employees feeling isolated from coworkers and lacking trust, leading to increased stress, burnout, and reduced opportunities for personal and professional growth. The paper explores how this disconnection negatively impacts engagement, performance, and turnover rates, underscoring the need for meaningful workplace connections to enhance resilience, well-being, and growth.

The discussion also explores the concept of high-quality connections (HQCs) at work, essential for building psychological safety, trust, creativity, collaboration, and organizational change, even in remote and hybrid settings. However, the paradoxical role of technology is highlighted — as both an enabler and a barrier to genuine connection and productivity. The importance of weak ties for innovation and the critical role of social learning in enhancing organizational well-being are underscored. The section concludes with a call to rethink the use of current communication and community tools, advocating for a more integrated, human-first approach that prioritizes meaningful connections and learning opportunities.

Part 3, “Connection Through Curiosity: Questions are the Answer,” emphasizes the critical role of curiosity in enhancing workplace connection, well-being, and productivity. Despite its recognized importance, only a minority of employees feel routinely curious, hindered by barriers like fear and restrictive work cultures. Fostering an environment that values both inquiry and knowledge-sharing can enhance psychological safety, individual well-being, and improve business outcomes and innovation. This section emphasizes the importance of knowledge-sharing, essential for problem-solving and community building, yet often obstructed by current workplace practices. Addressing these issues requires thoughtful technology centred around human needs, promoting a culture of curiosity, connection, and strategic generosity, key for a thriving and engaged future workforce.

Part 4, "The Technology Paradox," explores the dual nature of technology in the new normal of the hybrid workplace. While it's celebrated for enhancing productivity and innovation, it also poses challenges to genuine human connection, just-in-time learning – the ability to access knowledge exactly when you need it, and even productivity itself. The rapid advancements in technology come with a human cost, urging us to design and implement strategies and support intentional usage that not only mitigate harm, but also enhance well-being and energy. The rise of human-centric technology, advocated for by organizations like the Center for Humane Technology, Positive Product Design, and the Digital Wellness Institute, emphasizes the user's well-being, satisfaction, and personal growth. As we confront the connection and human energy crises, it's vital for leaders to rigorously evaluate technology through a human-centric lens, ensuring both organizational and human sustainability.

Part 5, "Tech that Connects," explores new opportunities to tie all of this together through intentional behavioural design. It focuses on how technology like inqli's AI-powered platform can foster meaningful work-related connections while democratizing access to knowledge, essential for both productivity and human outcomes. While many current technological solutions address only the symptoms of workplace issues like disengagement and burnout, inqli aims to tackle the root causes by enabling equitable knowledge-sharing and collaboration.

Democratized and equitable knowledge-sharing refers to making the wealth of knowledge and resources that exist in your organization easily accessible to all employees. This enables everyone, regardless of what they do, where they are based, or who they know (or don’t know), to go straight to the information or expertise they're looking for, without gatekeeping. The platform illustrates a shift towards more human-centric, responsive technology, designed to enhance user experience and integrate with legacy systems. It facilitates the open sharing of tacit knowledge, fostering a culture of curiosity and generosity. The goal is to use technology not just for information exchange but to cultivate an environment of transparent collaboration, psychological safety and connection, ultimately aligning with and enhancing organizational values and stakeholder value.

Fostering meaningful connections through curiosity leads to a cascade of benefits like knowledge-sharing, just-in-time learning, and a sense of individual value and contribution. In our tech-enabled world, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to ignore that adding technology solutions on top of technology solutions isn’t working. Not only is it expensive, it significantly contributes to the constant context switching, ‘always on’ culture and technostress that are collectively straining our well-being. While technology poses challenges, with intentional design and implementation it can also be an ally, used strategically to strengthen connections and foster a thriving workplace that enhances both individual and business growth.

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About Our Partners at the Digital Wellness Institute

The Digital Wellness Institute is a leading provider of software, training, and recognition, offering innovative tools and strategies for digital balance and productivity.