Laura Schroeder is the Director of Brand at Personio. In this post, she details the importance of technology solutions in a human-centric workforce, and how attention fragmentation (along with micro delays) may create an unforeseen drain on workforce productivity and wellbeing.
We depend on technology, a lot. We use it to do almost every element of our ‘technical’ work, as well as the ‘human’ work like hosting meetings, attending conferences, or even having a quick coffee break. In many ways, we now rely on technology to do almost everything.
And, as it relates to the future of work, there is no better time than the present to think about how these solutions may be holding back a human-centric workforce. Let’s dive into how online fatigue and attention fragmentation may be causing problems for your organization.
Online Fatigue Is Real
Some days, it feels like we start Zoom and never shut it down. Between morning updates, coffee breaks, presentations, and even after-work socializing, we are now more online than ever, and we are really feeling it.
The fact is that online fatigue or online burnout is real, and it can be detrimental to your workforce. For this reason, a great starting point to fighting fatigue includes the following:
- Planning fewer meetings overall.
- Building in short breaks between meetings.
- Facilitating opt-in wellness programs for staff.
- Designing processes to maximize flow.
This is all good advice. In this article, though, I want to hone in on that last point. How can we design processes to maximize flow? In my opinion, we can’t have a conversation around flow without first thinking about fragmentation.
What Is Attention Fragmentation?
The idea behind attention fragmentation is that being interrupted, even a tiny interruption (which we’ll explore a bit more later), creates a cluster of distractions that takes your attention and splits it into multiple pieces. It takes time to get back into the flow.
In an environment where there is little to no separation between our work life and online life, our attention is not only more valuable but more under threat. We need time to focus on our work, but at the same time, there have never been more interruptions.
It matters because your attention is everything. It’s how you focus your time to be productive, and a loss of attention bears both a psychological and a business cost. It all starts with what I’d like to call ‘micro delays.’
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What Is A Micro Delay?
Think of it this way: you’re at your computer, hard at work on something, and a notification pops up on your screen. You need to provide feedback on an important presentation.
Next, you get an email that you have a performance review you need to complete. Then, your phone buzzes or you need to review a handful of vacation requests.
You have all of these distractions that pull you away from your work, coming at you from all angles. Each one represents a micro delay, and although they seem small they have a cumulative effect across the business.
In fact, did you know that each micro delay can be quantified? One micro delay is worth approximately 20 minutes of time (considering not only the time it takes but the time it takes away from other tasks).
So, all of a sudden, 3 micro delays turn into one hour of lost work. With 12 micro delays, your whole morning is a wash. While each delay may be small individually, they are anything but when you start to add them up.
Why Does This All Matter?
It matters because while technology can be incredibly beneficial, your technology ecosystem and ways of working may not be well-designed for a human-centric workforce.
There can also be consequences that are detrimental to your workforce. Things like frustration, stress, and burnout, all creating a drain on your productive potential.
Technology can help with nearly every aspect of work, but too much technology can have the opposite effect, resulting in:
- Too many solutions
- Too many log-ins
- Too much time spent switching between them
This is all incredibly distracting. In fact, it helps to think of the simple switch between platforms as a micro delay in and of itself. That’s 20 minutes of interrupted focus to simply switch between solutions and perform a quick task like an approval or comment.
Worse, we start to get used to the fragmentation of our attention, looking for those quick tasks that let us skim the surface of real work without achieving the flow that is required for deep problem-solving.
What Do You Do About It?
Let’s start by thinking about all of the different applications that an average employee might work with, on any given day, at your organization.
One employee might find themselves tracking their time, a hiring manager might be logging onto their recruiting tool, a leader may be doing some online training or conducting a performance review. Someone else might be submitting an expense report.
This is a handful of possibilities, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. So, when we think about handling fragmentation, we need to think about both centralizing and optimizing tools and workflows to minimize interruptions.
Before making a choice about a new solution, ask yourself a couple of questions:
- Is this technology siloed, another place to log in, or another user experience?
- Is it distracting and constantly notifying people (causing micro delays)?
- Is it overly prescriptive, forcing people to work in one way and one way only?
- Is it irrelevant and value-adding for the employees who have to use it?
It’s crucial to zero in on personal benefits for employees in terms of time saved or other added value if you want them to adopt a new solution. That way, they not only start using the solution because it’s mandated but continue using it because they see the value to their work.
Unlock Your Productive Potential
When it comes to solutions, the fact is that you might be spreading your workforce too thin. This might cause more distractions, less attentive work, and more micro delays that simply get in the way of the best work being done.
Therefore, it’s not simply about digitizing work, it’s about doing so in a way that keeps the human element top of mind. For this to work, you need to really focus on the right tools to design ‘human-centric’ workflows.
This way, your solutions are exactly that: solutions. They don’t hold back your workforce, instead, they help to unlock its full potential.
About Laura Schroeder
Laura Schroeder is a brand and innovation strategist who has worked and advised in the HR technology space for 15 years at leading global organizations. As Head of Brand and Comms at Personio, her focus is helping HR teams scale operations, reduce complexity and work more strategically.