The Center for Data Innovation spoke with Anders Søndergaard, chief executive officer and co-founder of Resilio, a company based in San Francisco and Aarhus, Denmark, whose application helps users dealing with stress in their work environment. Søndergaard discussed how Resilio uses personalized training, gamification, and to improve mental well-being at work, reduce burnout, improve satisfaction, and increase productivity.
Eline Chivot: Which signals and trends did you see have led you to create Resilio three years ago? Why is technology a powerful tool to prevent stress and pressure?
Anders Søndergaard: Reports on stress, anxiety, and depression have been alarming for years now. Millions of people are affected by poor mental well-being. And seriously, this problem threatens to undermine our society. But in recent years something interesting has started to happen: Workplaces are now looking at mental well-being as a part of their business performance strategy. Happy and healthy people are good for business. Mental well-being is not only the individual’s problem anymore—it’s a priority for their workplace too.
This is why we chose to develop Resilio for the workplace. Most of us spend one-third of our lives in the workplace, and the workplace happens to be a great place to promote and improve mental well-being.
But there is no one-size-fits-all for mental well-being. It’s a complex challenge that requires a range of solutions. We have chosen to focus on what we believe is one of the most fundamental and important things for improving mental well-being: Teaching people about how their physiology works when they are under pressure. And it turns out that technology can be a really helpful tool to do that!
Chivot: Which techniques do you use to teach users to improve mental well-being at work?
Søndergaard: Resilio literally connects the user’s physiology with the smartphone. We use the camera of a standard smartphone to measure and analyze heart rate—thereby showing to the user how deep breathing training affects our physiology. This is actually a research-based method called “heart rate variability biofeedback” that we adapted to the mobile phone.
We want to offer the user a view into their physiology that can teach them how their biological system is designed and how they can use this understanding to manage periods of pressure in a better way.
Chivot: Which metrics does the application collect and measure, and how can users track their progress? Can you share a few interesting insights and results?
Søndergaard: As mentioned earlier, we collect heart rate using the camera of the phone. The user puts his or her index finger on the back camera and we measure heart rate by looking at differences in skin color. This enables us to provide the user with a motivating breathing training experience that is calibrated to their unique physiology—using a device that almost everyone carries in their pocket already.
Currently, we provide feedback on the quality of the training sessions but sometime, in the near future, we will also be tracking the actual state of the users’ autonomic nervous system—allowing us to measure stress over time. We often do small studies on the benefits of using Resilio and the data is very promising: 86 percent of our users are significantly less stressed after using Resilio for only two weeks, and 93 percent of them report that they feel more energized at work. And the effect of Resilio sticks: Three-quarters of users who took a break of more than 30 days from the training are still using the skills that they acquired by using Resilio in their everyday lives.
Chivot: How do you improve your application? Are there any challenges to collecting more data through technologies and business models like yours?
Søndergaard: We have access to an interesting set of usage and effect data that we are mining to understand our users—and we combine that with a lot of interviews (with both users and non-users). We use this to develop hypotheses about what steps to take next in the product development. We are GDPR-compliant and have set up a system that gives us the necessary data to keep improving the app and the surrounding services.
The next step for us is to collect data on the impact that Resilio has on a business. We want to provide companies with solid return on investment calculations that proves the correlation between building resilience with Resilio and employee engagement and productivity. This is a bit complicated, but we are pretty confident that we will get some interesting evidence later this year.
Chivot: Do you have a vision of how AI and other technologies will continue to provide new solutions in stress management and prevention?
Søndergaard: This is a really important question! I am sure that technology can have a huge impact on the effort to improve mental well-being for many years to come. But there’s an important point to be made here: Stress and stress-related mental challenges are extremely complex subjects. And we should not expect technology to fix this. But technology can be—when it is developed based on research and a strong ethical code—a really really great way of empowering people to understand and act on their challenges. Technology that empowers people! That’s the kind of future we believe in at Resilio.