Less Talk, More Action: How to Solve the Problem of Communication Overload

Less Talk, More Action: How to Solve the Problem of Communication Overload

It’s impossible to hide from your coworkers. Whether you work in the office, from home, or at a coffee shop, any of your colleagues can instantly interrupt (and perhaps ruin) your day with a “tap on the shoulder” thanks to a plethora of communication technologies. At Bloomberg BNA Last week, Genevieve Douglas highlighted some new data illustrating the negative impact this constant onslaught of communication is having on a growing number of employees. Many are either missing critical information they need, or are considering changing employers to get away from the deluge of chatter and information.

Douglas points to a survey published in March by the communications software provider Dynamic Signal, in which half of respondents said they felt overwhelmed by the proliferation of these tools and pressured to use multiple platforms. A third of the employees surveyed said they were so stressed out by the state of communication in their workplace that they were ready to quit because of it.

Having personally tracked the reasons why employees quit with my colleague Brian Kropp for over a decade, I’m skeptical that employees will really quit because of poor communication alone. However, our latest research does substantiate the claim that providing employees with “on demand access” to information and HR solutions through more channels and new technology platforms really does hinder their performance.

Business leaders are aware of this problem of communication overload and looking to address it proactively, Natalie McCullough, general manager of MyAnalytics and Workplace Analytics at Microsoft, told Douglas. When it comes to enabling employee collaboration through technology, our new research points to a useful rule of thumb: If you want to improve employees’ performance and experience at the same time, focus less on providing new ways for them to communicate and more on enabling them to act.

Adding a communication channel should not lead to more communications, but rather better communications that are ‘effortless’ to process and use. This, paradoxically, requires employers to restrict the sharing of information and communicate in ways that nudge employees to act. We call this “guided action.”

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In Time Management, Anticipating Interruptions Can Boost Engagement and Productivity

In Time Management, Anticipating Interruptions Can Boost Engagement and Productivity

Time management is a perennial challenge for any professional. As HR practitioners’ roles become more strategic, they find themselves under increasing pressure mitigate the time costs of non-strategic activities, as well as to figure out ways to improve time management throughout their organizations. A recent study led by London Business School professor Michael Parke points toward a possible solution.

Parke and one of his co-authors, Justin Weinhardt from the University of Calgary, discussed their findings in a recent Harvard Business Review article. Workers juggling competing demands on their time, they explain, can significantly increase their engagement and productivity at work by moving away from the traditional time management approach, toward a new approach they call “contingent planning.” In this type of planning, people “consider the possible disruptions or interruptions they may face in their work day and devise a plan to address them if they occur.”

“Contingent planning is less commonly used than time-management planning because individuals frequently make plans that overestimate how much they will get done and underestimate (or fail altogether) to account for how their work will be disrupted,” they add.

The researchers found that either type of planning positively impacted daily engagement and daily productivity in the absence of significant interruptions. However, when employees faced many interruptions in the course of a day, only contingent planning had a positive impact.

Talent Daily reached out to Parke for more ideas about how professionals can practice contingent planning in their day-to-day work, and he provided the following five tips:

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There Is Work Life Outside Your Inbox

There Is Work Life Outside Your Inbox

A sponsored study from Adobe looks at the dominance of email in our work lives and finds that it’s pretty darn all-consuming:

The report shows that people constantly check their personal and work email, with smartphones overtaking computers as the device consumers use most regularly to check email. Time spent checking email increased 17 percent Year-over-Year (YoY) and people expect email will remain the preferred way of communicating at work in five years. Email in the workplace is becoming less formal and more brief, with expectations of quick responses increasing. Nearly 70 percent check email while watching TV and 45 percent while in the bathroom.

“This survey underpins that email is here to stay in our personal lives and in the workplace. The next generation of workers expect fast responses to email and brevity, mirroring interactions in their personal lives and their shorter attention span,” said Kristin Naragon, director of Email Solutions, Adobe Campaign. “Marketers must adapt their approach to address email behaviors and avoid adding to the noise of the inbox. This means fewer emails and ensuring those sent are mobile-optimized, personalized and contextual to offer the best possible digital experience.”

The study also touches on the “always-on” work culture that email helps sustain:

Almost one-half of the people surveyed expect a response to email within less than an hour at work. Expectations are dramatically higher with older millennials (25-34): over one-fourth expect email responses within a few minutes. On the weekend, people send 19 work emails and read 29 emails on average. 79 percent admit to checking work email on vacation and nearly one-fourth divulge that they frequently or constantly check email on vacation. Smartphones are the primary device on which millennials check email (90 percent for ages 18-24; 88 percent for ages 25-34).

And emoji use is also on the rise:

Another Adobe survey in August, of 400 US professionals, found something similar: Respondents said they spent an average of 6.3 hours a day on email (3.2 hours on work email and 3.1 hours on personal emails), and the vast majority said they checked work email at home and personal email at work. The Atlantic‘s James Hamblin suggests a way to push back against this time-sink. Brevity, he proposes, should be the cardinal rule of writing emails—dispense with formalities and keep it short and sweet:

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Rethinking the Workday

Rethinking the Workday

As the traditional eight-hour workday has steadily grown into 10 or 12 hours for many professionals, experts have begun to question the wisdom of working long hours and to posit that shorter workdays may actually improve productivity by reducing stress and encouraging employees to focus more sharply on their work. Employers in European countries like Sweden have recently been experimenting with six-hour workdays, and one small American company has claimed success working just five hours a day.

But the length of the workday isn’t the only factor that influences productivity; structure matters, too. At Forbes, Travis Bradberry rejects the eight-hour workday as “an outdated and ineffective approach to work” that “possesses little relevance for us today.” His problem with the eight-hour workday isn’t its length, however, but rather the notion of expecting to work productively for long, uninterrupted stretches of time. The secret to working more effectively, he argues, may lie in taking better breaks:

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