At the BCA Conference in May, BT Futurologist Dr Nicola Millard introduced the idea of a five-step business 'diet' plan, to help workers manage their communications and cut down on techno-stress.
With the steady growth of mobile technology and wireless internet technology, we have entered an age where our mobiles are always on us - and they are always on. While that spells good news for employers whose workers are putting in extra hours, where does that leave the employee? Probably, according to Dr Nicola Millard, under significant stress.
During her fascinating presentation at the BCA's Conference in May this year, Dr Millard revealed a very important trait about people: we can't multi-task. We haven't evolved to multi-task and we can't do it effectively at all. Multi-tasking leads to task-switching, which leads to low productivity, work overload and stress.
She revealed that as many as 1 in 3 workers suffer from 'techno-stress'. Some of this is caused by emails piling up in your inbox, or receiving phone calls when you're trying to focus on a complex task. And sometimes, when employers send an email at 8pm, the employee feels under pressure to respond - even if the sender isn't expecting an immediate response.
"Collaboration black hole"
Email is one of the worst culprits, as many workers now receive email on their personal smartphones. Dr Millard describes email as a "black hole" for collaboration and a tool that adds significant workload. "During an average working day, I discovered that I was spending 42% of my time on email," she said. "No wonder I wasn't getting anything done!"
With this revelation, and having admitted that she was one of the 1 in 3 who experienced techno-stress, Dr Millard followed BT's Balanced Communications Diet to help resolve these problems. "For me, it changed the way that I work entirely," she said.
The 'diet' was developed alongside the University of Cambridge to find a way for workers to reduce stress and collaborate more effectively. The upshot? Every worker is different, and each person prefers a certain channel of communication over others. From email to IM, phone calls to social networks, it is necessary for workers to first identify their preferred channels of communication and also to communicate this to their colleagues, to help prevent a build-up of stress.
Five-Step Business Diet
Similar to healthy eating in which a balanced diet is required, the same is true of technology. There can be too much of a good thing and while constant connectivity has enormous advantages, it can also leave us feeling overwhelmed and under pressure. This is a summary of BT's five-step Balanced Communications Diet - the full report can be downloaded here.
1) Location: Consider where you use your technology. In Dr Millard's words, "just because we can work anywhere doesn’t mean we should". At work, busy open-plan office space can lead to distractions - and Dr Millard estimates that it can take as much as 15 minutes to get back into a complex task once you've been distracted. This all adds to techno-stress, so consider switching your phone and emails off or using a meeting room to get complex projects done.
2) Rules: Have rules and stick to them. One problem Dr Millard highlighted is the flashing icon on a smartphone that indicates a new email. Even late at night, the temptation is there to see what it is. Set boundaries related to when you deal with work communications (which doesn't involve replying to emails at 2.00am), or simply switch it off.
3) Be Aware: Understand how you are using technology and consider keeping a log of which communication channels you use the majority of the time, in order to understand which one demands the most from you. Dr