Neurological research by Dell Technologies sheds light on how better functioning tech makes for less stress at work

By Mohammed Chahdi, Director of Global HR for Dell Technologies

Mohammed Chahdi, Director of Global HR for Dell Technologies

At a time when people are more dependent than ever on technology to work, learn and connect, Dell Technologies studied people’s brainwaves to understand how the tech they use in their everyday life can influence and shape their experience.

Our Evolving Relationship with Technology

With this year’s increased reliance on technology, we have become more sensitive to its performance highs and lows. As the pressure to perform increases, businesses who understand the impact that technology has on people are at an advantage. Not only can they offer a better experience – they can help employees become more efficient and effective.

At Dell Technologies, we use research to understand our customers’ needs and to drive innovations as those needs change. That’s why we embarked on our first ever neuroscience “Brain on Tech” study earlier this year. Our objective was to explore the intertwining relationship humans have with technology and how it affects our ability to work. We wanted to know the true impact of technology performance on our overall well-being.

Together with EMOTIV, the global leader in portable brain sensing technologies and consumer neuroscience, participants’ brain activity was monitored in real time (via EEG scanning headsets) while they worked and interacted with technology. This let us go far beyond the fill-in-the-bubble-survey, providing rich scientific results.

While at first glance the results of the study confirmed what we assumed – experiences with high functioning and reliable technology and non-responsive or failing technology directly impact productivity and how employees feel – the profound extent this correlation had was astounding.

Using Technology to Supercharge Productivity and Efficiency

In our new era, PCs are often the only physical connection an employee has to a company. It’s pretty incredible when you stop and think about it: this device is not only just for work, but also the gateway to engage with company culture and connect with customers and coworkers. And for many, IT is no longer just a cubicle over to help with system crashes or computer lockouts.

What does that mean for Canadian business owners, IT experts, HR leaders and employees? The Brain on Tech research revealed that it is more important than ever to provide employees with solid, functioning technology, improving employee productivity, contributing to the bottom line, and mitigating employee burnout. Though seemingly obvious, Canadian businesses who provide great technology experiences ensure optimum workforce productivity:

  • Employees can achieve an astounding 37 percent more in a workday when using technology that is not only newer but supported with the correct software and services.
  • For every hour worked, good tech can save employees 23 minutes per hour or fifteen hours in a 40-hour work week. 
  • A bad technology experience impedes employee performance by more than 30 percent on average, regardless of a user’s perceived computer literacy.
  • Younger Millennials and Gen Zers (those surveyed under the age of 26), were most impacted by a bad tech experience, performing twice as poorly as older participants in the study.

Delivering the Best Technology Experiences Impact How Employees Feel

Challenging technology can make today’s new work-life dynamic more stressful. Our research showed that well-functioning technology can positively impact feelings and relieve stress for employees, creating both emotional benefits as well a lasting impact on retention. For example:

  • (Almost) everyone loves puppies. Receiving different technology that is enabled with the power and tools end-users need to be successful after dealing with technology that is flawed by common IT issues was equally as exciting as watching videos of puppies.
  • The study measured excitement once participants received and used new, better functioning computers. The change of equipment induced more excitement than receiving a monetary reward upon completion of the experiment.
  • How study participants rebounded from the stress of a bad tech experience became an important piece of data as it demonstrated the effect stress has over an extended period, like a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday. The results show that those experiencing high stress moments take three times longer to relax and recover even when listening to relaxing music, compared to those experiencing less stressful moments in the workday.
  • Timely technology refreshes can also benefit stress levels. Employees that have bad technology experiences during their workday feel twice as stressed, which is almost 30% more stressful than being asked to sing a song in public.

In the “Work from Anywhere” world, people, productivity, health and well-being matter. The best investment any business can make to reduce stress and improve productivity is to provide reliable, seamless technology experiences to reduce friction and help employees achieve their work goals.

The Experiment Methodology

In early 2020, Dell and EMOTIV developed a custom experiment to measure the reactions of users of various ages and computer literacy levels as they completed cognitively challenging tasks under time using both good and bad PC technology. EMOTIV’s EPOC+ wireless Brainwear® headsets were used to collect participants’ brain data in a work environment. Levels of stress, focus, excitement and frustration were assessed in real-time leveraging EMOTIV’s proprietary machine learning algorithms.

EMOTIV researchers studied adult users representative of a modern workforce, including mixed gender, ages, computer literacy and familiarity with computerized workplaces. Participants in a work environment were required to complete cognitively challenging tasks under time pressure with the prospect of a reward tied to the level of completion of the tasks.

Two conditions were tested in a block design using similar task loads. In the “Bad Computer” experimental condition, users were provided with an unreliable laptop with planted bugs, while during condition “Good Computer,” users were provided with high-performing computers and screens which streamlined the user experience.

EMOTIV also recorded brain activity during various baseline, rest and recovery control conditions and provided happy and stressful videos in order to benchmark responses against known experiences and to measure recovery times.

***Research participants used identical Dell Latitude systems and accessories; “bad tech” users had bugs introduced which replicate the common system and software failures. These failures included insufficient bandwidth, memory, security failure, OS update failure. All research participants completed a series of including drafting and sending emails, creating documents and spreadsheets, connecting to wireless networks, changing passwords, configuring their SSO and attending virtual meetings.