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Business will move to restrict notifications on smartphones

09 April 2016 by Michelle Lewis 0 Comments

Ping - incoming tweet
Ping - new email
Ping - instagram, snapchat, facebook, linkedin
Ping - text, facetime, skype, whatsapp
Ping, ping, ping...

Notifications are already interrupting workers and that trend will increase to the point that employers will need to restrict interactions to protect productivity.



By 2020, the average knowledge worker will spend the day in close proximity to between three and five devices capable of interrupting him or her in some way.

 This is the prediction of Gartner research analyst, Nick Jones.

Do Notifications really affect Productivity?

So a notification distracts us momentarily but surely we are capable of ignoring and focusing on our work? 

Well apparently not, and notifications are probably more disruptive than we realise.

A growing body of psychological research shows that the mental context of switching, which is caused by such interruptions,  adversely impacts our ability to perform complex tasks. This is because human brains are not designed to multitask.

Glenn Wilson, of Gresham College, London, showed that merely knowing you have an unread email in your inbox can reduce your effective IQ by 10 points when concentrating on a task. 

Earl Miller, a neuroscientist at MIT and one of the world experts on divided attention, says that our brains are not wired to multitask well.

"When people think they're multitasking, they're actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there's a cognitive cost in doing so."

Multi-tasking is "not efficient"

Even though we think we're getting a lot done, ironically, multitasking makes us demonstrably less efficient. Multi-tasking has been found to increase the production of the stress hormone cortisol as well as the fight-or-flight hormone adrenaline, which can overstimulate your brain and cause mental fog or scrambled thinking. 

Some psychologists believe that responding to interruptions is akin to a form of addiction that generates chemical "rewards" in the brain, so responses are difficult to voluntarily control.

Multi-tasking creates a dopamine-addiction feedback loop, effectively rewarding the brain for losing focus and for constantly searching for external stimulation.

We answer the phone, look up something on the internet, check our email, send an SMS, and each of these things tweaks the novelty- seeking, reward-seeking centres of the brain, causing a burst of endogenous opioids, which feels good but distracts to our ability to stay on task.

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What will Business do to protect Productivity?

According to Gartner, by 2020 organizations will be using a wide range of technologies and tactics to reduce the number and frequency of interruptions.

This will create new product and service opportunities and drive demand for interruption management features in existing products. These will include:

Training and awareness Encouraging employees to voluntarily limit the use of devices and services that can cause excessive interruptions.

Smart filtering Tools such as virtual assistants and future intelligent messaging systems will attempt to categorize the importance of messages to deliver only those that matter. Some messaging systems or message types may be disabled in certain contexts.

  • Biometric monitoring integrated with smart messaging Researchers have demonstrated systems that monitor brain activity to identify when a worker is concentrating and determine when interruptions might be inappropriate. Such research will result in features embedded in wearable products before 2020.

  • Disabling enterprise messaging systems In certain contexts or at certain times. For example, employees performing critical tasks (such as a doctor diagnosing a patient or an engineer performing safety-critical maintenance) may be required to disable personal as well as enterprise messaging systems during certain tasks as a condition of employment.

Gartner Recommendations for Business

However such measures are likely to cause significant tension between personal and enterprise goals of workers, especially when they impact BYO devices, such as smartphones and wearables. 

Gartner suggests business should act now to:

  • Monitor both psychological research and employee's use of devices and services that can cause interruptions, to attempt to quantify the risks to worker productivity and effectiveness and to gain evidence to support future action.
  • Educate employees about the costs and risks of interruptions and encourage them to voluntarily control them, but realize that voluntary controls will not be fully effective because of the addictive nature of interruptions.
  • Look for new products and technologies that can automatically manage the number and type of interruptions.
  • Focus interruption management efforts on high-risk job roles, such as safety-critical workers.


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