apps on a phone
PHOTO: Rami Al-zayat

It’s not often that an organization causes a media firestorm by saying something that is both radical and obvious. But that’s exactly what the new Center for Humane Technology has accomplished. 

We all know that excesses in technology consumption have been percolating for quite some time, with people literally losing their lives to their mobile devices. The National Safety Council reports that 25 percent of all car crashes are caused by texting and driving. But it wasn’t until founders and investors behind some of the biggest tech transgressors stood up to their former partners, did a social movement start to take root. 

The Center for Humane Technology partnered with nonprofit media advocacy group Common Sense Media earlier this month to launch an ad campaign on media addiction. And while this is a good start, it doesn't address the importance of this same principle within the workplace.

The Modern, Overwhelmed Workforce

Workplace tech challenges differ somewhat from their consumer counterparts. In the workplace, technology overload most often leads to distractions that negatively impact productivity, not relationships. Specifically, information overload in the workplace makes it hard for employees to focus on what’s really important. Case in point: the average business professional uses 9 apps at work and checks their email at least five times per hour. This doesn’t include use of enterprise apps like Slack, which also employ consumer app-like notification features to pull attention away from work.  

With all these tools, today’s digital workplace has become a veritable cacophony of dings and beeps aimed at capturing our attention. But these interruptions impede our ability to complete important tasks, rather than help complete them.

Paradoxically, the “consumerization” of enterprise software has become a major contributing factor to this distraction, by creating an overwhelmed workforce. While workers are free to install whatever tool suits their fancy using merely a credit card, this freedom has had unintended consequences — specifically, creating a competition for valuable attention, because each tool brings its own set of notification features and unique user experience.

Related Article: Is Your Time Online Time Well Spent?

Introducing 'Technostress'

The proliferation of disconnected apps also contributes to our inability to focus on what’s important, because piecing together the messages from multiple apps is cognitively difficult. For example, in this new world, knowledge workers need to remember where information is located — “Was that file saved in Dropbox or in Office 365?” or “Did I get that message in an email or in a Microsoft Teams channel?” — rather than focusing on their tasks.

Part of the problem is that, as humans, we think in term of “topics” not in term of “apps.” IT has historically been focused on solving productivity problems with apps rather than focusing on people. The next generation of enterprise software needs to adopt to address the way people think. To increase workplace productivity, software vendors need to stop competing for attention and instead work on reducing distractions, so workers can concentrate and collaborate better.

This competition for workplace attention is causing more than productivity dips. According to a recent Microsoft survey, the interruptions and distractions are creating  “technostress,” namely a workplace plagued with fatigue, stress and unhappiness. Because when workers are forced to adapt to the limitations of technology, the friction increases the amount of cognitive processing required to process the information they need to do their job. 

Related Article: Information Overload Comes in 3 Flavors: Here's How to Combat It

Software Vendors, Take Heed

This can — and will — create a backlash in the business world. A backlash like we are now seeing in the consumer world against Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and the like.

Enterprise software vendors take heed. With the consumer app vendor world on notice, you won’t be far behind.