Miniaturization and progress in data communication have profoundly altered the landscape of personal and enterprise computing. The ubiquity of smartphones, tablets and, increasingly, the much-anticipated ‘Internet of Things’ have made communication easier and faster than ever. But, with an ever-increasing range of demands on our attention, some commentators and academics, such as the neuroscientist Daniel Levitan, argue that our multi-device workflows can in fact prevent us from getting any real work done. Is a multi-device necessarily a less productive one? How can businesses harness the latest advances in technology without adding to the information overload?
It is of course the case the advances in technology have led to significant improvements in business IT ecosystems. It is now easier than ever to synchronize enterprise resource planning across a business, with technology making it much easier to collect, manage and interpret data efficiently and intelligently. For employees, the wealth of connected devices makes it much simpler to share documents with colleagues, while digital Kanban boards and sophisticated interactive devices such as the Surface Hub greatly facilitate collaboration and reduce the need for expensive long-distance travel.
And yet academic commentators and anecdotal evidence both suggest that these advances are not without their disadvantages. Businesses and employees are increasingly aware of the problems associated with a multi-device workplace in which employees are always connected and – potentially – always working. One commonly cited problem is the presence of an available-at-all-hours culture at some companies, in which employees feel they must be prepared to work at any time of day, even at evenings and weekends. This is a significant increase in input, which only infrequently leads to any tangible increase in output.
Similarly, as soon as they arrive at the office employees can be met by a barrage of communication, with constant interruption preventing them from ever concentrating fully on any one task. This need to constantly multitask, some neuroscientists suggest, essentially lowers our office IQs by making us think and remember in less effective ways. Once it was relatively straightforward to categorize calls and correspondence by their importance, and there’s an increasing sense that office expectations have changed: we feel guiltier about letting an email go unanswered email than when we let a call ring out.
For communication, it’s important for businesses to make their expectations clear: employees must know that it’s sometimes OK to let an email go unacknowledged. Some businesses have taken extreme measures by banning internal emails altogether, while others use email services which block employees from emailing out-of-hours. More widely, we may also be starting to see a shift in the way IT ecosystems work, with a reduced role for employees and an increasing emphasis on the smart transmission of machine-to-machine (M2M) data. The automatic transmission of data between different parts of a business can reduce the need for constant internal communication via email and social media. It may still be early days, but M2M could offer part of the solution for smarter business communication.
Images by GzmDesign and Robert S. Donovan via Flickr