Email and social networking are growing distractions in the workplace

Regarding the just-released Work-Life-Web report from Clearswift, the social email provider, the findings regarding ‘social media growing pains’ are exactly in line with my thoughts on the profound impacts that social media has on our business and leisure lives.

One of the most interesting Web 2.0-relevant take-outs from the Clearswift report is the conclusion by 70 per cent of staff that email and social networking are distractions in the workplace. Further research found that the majority of people waste at least an hour a day dealing with constant interruptions, the most of which are caused by a constant deluge of email alerts, text messages, tweets and phone calls.

Many people can work just 15 minutes or without interruptions, and they need up to twenty minutes to regain focus and get back to the work at hand. As a result, people find themselves in a constant state of digital overload, and they have trouble carrying out their responsibilities with the necessary effort and focus.

The study is a clear wake-up call to management to find better ways to manage peoples’ digital overload. On the subject of controlling staff access to Web 2.0 services in the workplace, the Clearswift study found that 26 per cent of employees become demotivated and a further 14 per cent of staff attempt to side-step social network controls in the event that draconian controls are imposed.

Coupled with the fact that almost one in 30 members of staff would respond to a workplace Web 2.0 lockdown by walking out of the company door, it’s clear that cutting off social networks has a negative effect on business, especially where younger employees are concerned, since they are the heaviest users of the new social Internet.

Managing the issue is not about blocking access to social media channels, but rather integrating the tools into peoples’ day-to-day work environment, so they have ready access to people and information within their work context.

Equally important is training, since most people don’t have an instinctive feel for best practices, at least when it comes to managing social media and other communication tools. For example, email communications can become more manageable if your staff know to limit the length of emails, the length of an email chain, or the number of people that get cc’d.

The majority of staff also respond a lot more favourably when managers respect their time off and are prepared to assist those staff who are exhibiting signs of addiction. Many people suffer from a condition psychologists call “online compulsive disorder,” and it’s something that employers and people generally need to move beyond in order to regain control over their lives.

That latest IM may seem to be urgent, but employees need to prioritise and question its urgency against the backdrop of the other tasks.

The survey by Clearswift also confirms that employees – who have to peruse an ever-increasing array of communication tools to stay ahead in their professional life – are struggling to keep their personal and work life separate.

Despite this, the challenge for managers remains in how to streamline these communication tools, and encourage people to take control over their devices’ on/off switches.

Taking these steps, I have found, allows staff to regain their civility and control over their lives. And this can be achieved by taking advantage of the many new tools and strategies that are being developed to allow workers cope with these pressures.

The boundaries between personal and work life are continuing to blur, especially for younger members of staff. And as work days get longer, more and more employees will need to juggle their work and personal communications.

It’s clear that more needs to be done in the typical business to help management get rid of unwanted communications in the workplace.

David Lavenda is Vice President of Marketing and Product Strategy at Harmon. For the past 20 years, David has served as an executive for a number of high-tech companies. After completing a undergraduate degree in Physics, advanced studies in Electrical Engineering, and an MBA in Marketing, David co-founded Business Layers, an identity management company, serving as VP Marketing and Product Strategy from its inception until the company's successful sale five years later. Additional stints as VP of Marketing and Product Strategy for several successful high-tech companies followed. David is a technology expert blogger for Fast Company. He is also pursuing advanced studies in STS (Science, Technology, and Society) - focusing on the research of online behaviors.

  • Mathias

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