As opposed to spending our time performing the duties that we are employed to do, over a third of us in the UK have admitted to wasting a significant amount of time trying to resolve issues that we had forgotten about due to the amount of information we received on the subject. With the rising popularity of team collaboration and communication applications, many of us struggle with managing and prioritizing the influx of information we receive daily. However, with more and more businesses deploying these applications into their working environments to help streamline both internal and external communication, what are the potential pitfalls associated with doing so and how can they potentially be avoided?

In a 2015 report carried out by Microsoft Canada, they identified that the average attention span had dropped by four seconds from 12 seconds in 2000 (roughly the same time as the mobile revolution took place) to eight seconds in 2015 (one second less than a goldfish!). Why? According to the report, ‘heavy multi-screeners find it difficult to filter out irrelevant stimuli – they’re more easily distracted by multiple streams of media’. In other words, despite businesses deploying more and more applications and platforms to help improve workflows and productivity, it seems like they are having an adverse effect. For an example of this, one does not need to look further than their own working environment. In my experience working for various companies in the past, I often found myself using one platform for instant messaging, one for video conferencing, one for file sharing, and one for internal presentations. I would then proceed to spend a considerable amount of time trying to keep track of the various conversations I was having on each, somewhat detracting me from my core responsibilities.

While I am not trying to downplay the positive impact these types of technologies can have on workplace productivity and their importance in enabling remote workers to feel more engaged, it is important that they are correctly used and managed from the moment they are deployed. Unlike the more formal and planned process one follows when sending an email, when poorly introduced into the work environment certain collaboration applications can often have the adverse effect where people get sucked into just ‘chatting’. The message recipient then becomes inundated with message notifications and is faced with what’s become more commonly known as an ‘information overload’. By design, the human brain is not configured to be able to focus on more than four tasks at a time, so it is inevitable that when we start being inundated with information from numerous sources, we start to lose focus and experience declines in our productivity levels. So, what can be done about this?

First, before even considering introducing this type of technology you need to ask yourself ‘why’. Why do you need it and what role will it play in your business moving forward? There are several reasons why you may decide to deploy a unified communications (UC) and collaboration application to reduce the need for regular meetings as teams can better communicate and manage tasks, improve overall productivity levels as employees are more reachable and responsive, or as a first step towards your digital transformant journey. Either way, before deciding on which application to proceed with, you need to be clear on why exactly it is needed (this will also help you select the correct vendor to purchase from).

Second, once you have decided on the application you would like to proceed with you need to consider whether you will force your employees to only use that one application or whether you will permit them to have multiple ones on the go. As always there are merits to both options. By only allowing your employees to use one application you simplify things from a management perspective as it’s a lot easier to monitor its usage and whether it is being used correctly. Also, it can often be cheaper than using multiple ones. The downside is that it can also be more restrictive and can lead to a backlash from employees who are already using something else and who are reluctant to change. If you decide to permit the use of multiple applications, this additional flexibility will enable you to identify the one that best suits your business environment and workflow and will cause fewer interruptions as employees can continue to use the application they are already used to (and trust me, they’re already using one).

Finally, you need to find a platform that encompasses all – or as many as possible – of the internal and external communications features that your company depends on. While this may seem contradictory to the point above about having multiple applications, where possible you should try to find one that contains as many collaborations features as possible to reduce the extent to which your employees need to jump from one to the other. While this may sound like a hard feat to accomplish, there are several available platforms like this which boast the full suite of communication and collaborations features and functionalities.

Once you’ve successfully been the through the above steps and are now able to deploy your chosen application(s), you should consider a couple more points.

First, do you have executive buy-in? If you and your management-level colleagues aren’t using the platform yourselves, why would your employees?

Second, how are you going to communicate your reasons for deploying the new technology across the business? It is essential that you explain why you have chosen this application and clearly position the benefit it brings to those who use it.

Thirdly – either with or without the help of your vendor – you should host a training day where you invite employees who have been identified as ‘power users’ and train them on how to effectively use the new application. They will then be able to assist other employees when you eventually roll it out across the entire business.

While it is, of course, important to try and facilitate the seamless transfer of knowledge across and beyond the organization by constantly looking to employ smarter technologies, what this article highlights is the importance of managing these platforms to mitigate the risks of information overload. While we may be faced with more information than we were a couple of decades ago, I can reassure you that this is nothing new. We were complaining about information overload centuries ago. In fact, records go as far back as the third (or fourth) century BCE when the writer Ecclesiastes was complaining that ‘of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body’!