Mobile Applications

Humanise tech to beat distraction and 'app-ageddon'

This article was contributed by Yaacov Cohen, co-founder and CEO of harmon.ie, a developer of business software that’s intended to surface only relevant information.

Most organisations aiming for a mobile-first, cloud-first workplace are unknowingly heading towards a productivity cliff caused by an ever-growing “app-ageddon”. Today’s cloud and mobile business applications have been taking cues from Silicon Valley, basing their user experience on a consumer model largely dominated by Apple’s and Google’s easy-to-use, simple, single-task apps. These apps, by design, claim as much of the user’s attention as possible, prioritising their own individual importance over a well-coordinated, unified and contextualised workflow.

The ensuing business app-ageddon is causing workers to miss important action items and deadlines while also forcing them to make less-than-optimal business decisions. Organisations eager to embrace the mobile cloud for its promised agility and efficiency are, in essence, waging a war against the distraction caused by consumerized cloud and mobile apps. To win the war, businesses need a new mindset and toolset focused on humanising technology – making technology work for us and not the other way around.

Why today’s business apps and email fall short

The 70 SAP apps, 60 Oracle apps and 20 Microsoft apps you can find in the Apple App Store lure workers in with the promise of increased productivity, but with an unintended long-term consequence. While the apps help workers complete individual tasks quickly, the frequent task-switching and push notifications that come with each app end up distracting workers and decreasing productivity. Every time an app causes distraction, it lowers worker productivity for up to 23 additional minutes, according to Gloria Mark from the University of California, Irvine.

Although people love to hate email, it’s been around for so long because it’s task-oriented, offers universal connectivity and persistence, and has a familiar interface. Yet email also hurts overall focus because it’s ‘noisy’ and provides limited visibility across the business. Even if the noise challenge is solved with new filtering solutions like Microsoft Clutter or Google Inbox, email still only represents one content repository, and workers typically need to navigate six or more, according to Gartner. Filtering email is a start, but still misses the broader issue and doesn’t really help the worker win the growing war on distraction.

Winning against distraction

Winning the war against distraction starts with the realisation that humans don’t interface with information the same way machines do. We need simple, single-task solutions, but also need a way to manage across simple tasks. After all, no human is equipped to quickly prioritise and search across 150 emails, 40 Yammer messages and multiple Salesforce updates.

Technology solutions that wage the war on distraction effectively need a unifying layer that caters to the human rather than the machine – a layer that goes past email versus social versus document management, instead focusing on how the person using these tools needs to access and act on the information housed across them.

The secret weapon in the business cloud/mobile work arsenal lies in the single-screen work experience – an aggregated workstream that provides the big picture view, while also giving each user seamless access to single-task capabilities.

Unifying information around the worker will eliminate the distraction of constantly competing notifications and the time wasted searching for information. Work streams should not stop at the aggregation layer – to wage the war against distraction successfully, these work streams need to intelligently filter and prioritize information to help workers focus on what matters to them most. The work streams need to incorporate both automated and manual contextual filters to augment rather than replace the human’s role in getting their work done.

Lastly, the smart, unified workstream needs to seamlessly enable task completion, so it should allow business users to launch single-task apps directly from the workstream. This frictionless access to operational and collaboration-oriented tasks is central to increasing traction by limiting interruptions to the regular workflow.

A new approach to combatting distraction is essential as we move forward. By humanising technology, we can both be more productive and improve work/life balance. We shouldn’t work for our technology, checking email at the dinner table or logging into SharePoint from bed for fear of missing an important document update. With the right mindset and toolset, we can win the war against distraction.


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