The multitasking menace: UC as an antidote, rather than a cause

Research from Accenture suggests workers are suffering from too many distractions, but unified communications best practices could help us all listen a little better.

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How many times have you attended an online meeting where you spent the vast majority of time replying to emails and catching up on other work — perhaps even taking a nap? We’ve all done it. In fact, it seems to be the norm these days.

Which begs the question: Is multitasking making us more productive, or are we simply spreading ourselves too thin?

According to new research from Accenture, the vast majority of us spends at least part of our day multitasking, which we feel results in a loss of focus, lower-quality work and diminished team relationships.

And this is having a negative effect at work, particularly among women, says Accenture.

The research, #ListenLearnLead, which surveyed 3,600 professionals from 30 countries, found that eight in 10 respondents multitask on conference calls with work emails, instant messaging, personal emails and social media.

64% say listening is harder in today’s digital workplace, while 36% say distractions — from phone calls to pop-up meetings — prevent them from doing their best work. Accessibility is also seen as a hindrance: 62% of women and 54% of men view technology as “overextending” leaders by making them too accessible.

They’re not just making excuses: Researchers from the University of California found that when office workers were interrupted, it took them on average 25 minutes to return to their original task.

So does that mean unified communications — which makes us accessible anytime, anywhere, across devices — will be an epic failure in your organization? Technology may be part of the problem, but it’s also a solution.

UC can bring all forms of communication together. But just bundling these functions isn’t enough if communications remain siloed.

That’s why we’re hearing talk of “unified interaction” platforms that move the conversation thread seamlessly from one medium to another. And UC suites are evolving to include mobile apps, cloud delivery and social integration. In other words, the technology is adapting to how users communicate, rather than forcing them to learn new ways of communicating.

Ideally, UC should eliminate phone tag. But it can’t make someone stop messaging friends over Facebook while on a conference call.

If technology is applied incorrectly or abused by users, it can cripple efforts to innovate conference calls and boost staff engagement, says Rob Bellmar in the Harvard Business Review.

“Just because you can video conference from your iPhone before boarding a flight doesn’t mean you should,” says Bellmar. “Organizations should dictate a new form of meeting technology etiquette, one that respects staff flexibility, and their right to efficient, uninterrupted work time and collaboration.”

Rather than giving all employees the same conferencing tools, give them what they need to fulfill their unique responsibilities, he says. That means mapping the technology to the user, not vice versa.

New technologies could innovate the way we communicate and collaborate — but only if users aren’t napping or playing video games. UC should take user needs into account, or it risks becoming yet another distraction.

Image courtesy of iosphere at

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