Posted from Red Bank, New Jersey

This and the following posts summarize the findings from the research presented at the Enterprise 2.0 conference in San Francisco last November.  The references for this post can be found the the ‘Flexible Access’ section the Dark Side of Enterprise 2.0 post.

In the ‘old days’  people could only reach out to you by going to your office, calling you on the telephone or sending you inter-office mail.  Today, however, there lots of ways to make contact … email, instant messaging, blogging, micro-blogging or posting on wiki’s, discussion forums, etc.  While ubiquitous access can be empowering, there are risks with the likelihood of increased of interruptions.  Enterprise 2.0 introduces tools like social networks and micro-blogging and with these tools comes features to alert you whenever there is an update, response or comment.  This is useful because you don’t have to be on the platform to know if there is something new.  But this feature can be counterproductive because it adds more interruptions to your day.  These tools often include information on your presence which is helpful because now others know you are available to respond to their questions, but this also increases the number of interruptions in your day.

So what is wrong with interruptions?

One problem is the potential loss of productivity due to the resumption lag.  This is the time it takes to get back into the groove once you have been interrupted.   Imagine doing a Sudoku puzzle and you are interrupted to answer a simple question (like, “How do you spell ‘football’?”).  Researchers have been able to measure the time it takes for you to settle back into the puzzle, and it can be as short as a second, but it can be as much as a few seconds depending on the complexity of the task. When adding up all of these interruptions and distractions, one study estimated that knowledge workers lose up to 2 hours a day from multitasking and interruptions.

Another potential risk is the lost sense of accomplishment people may feel.  With interruptions comes the challenge of successfully completing tasks that you have started.  A day can be a pinball game of interruptions where you bounce from one thing to the next.  And this lack of control and task closure can lead to increased stress.  Could this stress end up impacting employees job satisfaction?

Finally, interruptions affect our ability to do complex analyses.  Good comprehension requires concentration and focus.  Remember the reading comprehension tests from school where you had to read a short article and answer questions on it?  How well would you do on them if you were getting alerts that you were tempted check?  In her book “Distracted:  The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age”  Maggie Jackson paints a detailed picture of how we risk addressing deep, long term problems because of our interrupt-driven lives.  Also, It turns out that researchers have found that our brains perform poorly at laying down memories when stressed with juggling multiple tasks and interruptions.

So this leads to the question of how should  these issues be identified as costs or risks in the business cases for Enterprise 2.0 programs?