Some days, it feels like we start Zoom and never shut it down. Between morning updates, coffees with co-workers, presentations and even after-work socialising, we are more online than ever. And we’re really feeling it, too.
The fact is that online fatigue, or online burnout, is real – and it can be detrimental to your workforce. A great starting point to fighting fatigue could include planning fewer meetings, building in breaks between meetings, and designing processes to maximise the flow of work.
Let’s home in on that last point, though. What does it mean to design processes to maximise the flow of work? In my opinion, you can’t have a conversation about flow without first thinking about attention fragmentation.
What is attention fragmentation?
We depend on technology a lot. We use it for almost every part of our “technical” work, in addition to the “human” work of hosting meetings, attending conferences or sharing a coffee break. In many ways, we now rely on technology to do almost everything related to work.
Interruptions, even a tiny interruption (which we’ll explore a bit more later), can result in a cluster of distractions that takes your attention and splits it into multiple pieces. It also involves the time it takes to pick those pieces back up again.
In an environment where there is little to no separation between our work life and online life, our attention is not only more valuable than ever, but more under threat. We need time to focus on our work, but at the same time, we’re facing a wave of interruptions.
Ultimately, 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 experts call “micro delays”.
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 quickly answer an important message that just came in.
All these distractions, coming at you from all angles, pull you away from your work. Each one represents a micro delay, and although they seem small they have a cumulative effect across your business.
In fact, did you know that each micro delay can be quantified? One micro delay is worth approximately 36 minutes of time (considering not only the time the delay takes but the time it takes to get back into the flow of work).
So all of a sudden, three micro delays turn into more than an hour and a half of lost work. With 12 micro delays, your whole morning is a wash. While each delay may seem insignificant on its own, it can really start adding up.
Why do micro delays matter?
While technology can be incredibly beneficial, your technology ecosystem and ways of working may not be well designed for a human-centric workforce.
According to a recent study performed by Personio (Counting the Cost: How Businesses Risk a Post Pandemic Talent Drain), an average of six tools for people-related tasks and insights are required by companies across Europe.
Technology can help with nearly every aspect of work, but too much technology can have the opposite effect, resulting in too many tools, too many logins, and too much time spent switching between them (and the time lost in that process).
“All of these distractions, coming at you from all angles, pull you away from your work. Each one represents a micro-delay, and although they seem small they have a cumulative effect across your business.”
It even helps to think of the switch between platforms as a micro-delay in and of itself. That adds up to 36 minutes of uninterrupted focus lost to switching between tools or a quick task such as an approval or comment.
Worse yet, 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’s the next step?
Let’s start by thinking about all the different applications that an average employee might work with, on any given day, at your organisation.
One employee might find themselves tracking their time; a hiring manager might be logging onto their recruiting tool; or a team 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 centralising and optimising tools and workflows to minimise interruptions.
Unlocking 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 focused work, and more micro delays that simply get in the way of the best work being done.
So it’s not simply about digitising things, it’s about doing so in a way that keeps the human element top of mind. For this to work, you need to focus on the right tools to design “human-centric” workflows.
This way, your solutions are exactly that: solutions. They shouldn’t hold back your workforce. Instead, they need to help unlock its full potential.
By Laura Schroeder, Head of Brand and Comms, Personio, Europe’s most valuable HR tech company.