Information Overload in the Workplace
Digital challenges for modern laboratory management
Most advances in communication and technology are seen as having a positive influence on business. People use the Internet to communicate easily with associates in the next office or across the globe. Consumers use e-commerce to purchase almost anything from almost anywhere, and access to information is fast and relatively inexpensive. However, these communication advances may also have negative impacts on business and can contribute to their own set of problems. It’s so easy for workers to get drawn into digital distractions that it feels much harder to focus and stay on task, especially since we now have incredible demands on our time as we try to fit more and more into the same 24 hours.
The constant connectedness isn’t just causing us to become multitaskers; it is also taking a social and financial toll. Information overload is responsible for economic losses of $900 billion a year at work, according to recent research by Basex, which specializes in technical issues in the workplace. Businesses that don’t recognize and address the potential pitfalls of using (or overusing) certain communication and management applications risk setting themselves up for failure. The following is an overview on some of these business risks laboratory managers should be aware of in the workplace.
Today it is possible and even common to hold a meeting without anyone being physically present in the same room. However, when the participants do not connect in face-to-face interactions, they lose the ability to build personal relationships—with clients, team members, and even patients. Similarly, without that interaction, it’s much harder for a group to collaborate, engage, and foster critical thinking to find solutions based on spontaneous contributions, also known as brainstorming.
Similarly, if employees communicate with each other or colleagues primarily by email or instant messaging (IM), they’re much less likely to step away from their desks and engage in social activities away from their screens. “Water cooler talk” now takes place by IM rather than face-to-face conversation or even over the phone, and it's got significant effects.
The effects of this kind of physical isolation—such as lack of social skills, depression, stress, constant distraction, and shortened attention span—are well documented in popular literature. Businesses, including laboratories, need to try to counteract any imbalance of in-person versus virtual interactions to avoid having such effects influence their bottom line, as well as employee satisfaction and well-being.
In order to better quantify employee productivity, some companies have started to use various digital applications to measure and monitor the daily activities of their employees while at work. Whatever the business’s motivation for using such software, though, their effectiveness is dubious since a decline in employee morale and productivity often results. A New York University study indicates that when someone is given a responsibility but not the trust and respect that goes along with it, it can lead to feelings of not being trusted or valued. Some workers perceive enforced use of these tracking applications to indicate a lack of respect by management. This can impact workers’ overall confidence, self-discipline, commitment, and enthusiasm for their work—all of which can result in lower productivity. Therefore, businesses wanting specifics on how well their employees work may want to consider different tactics.
One activity almost everyone can agree slows productivity is going through emails. It is a necessary daily activity in most places of work but with relatively little payoff, especially for junk email, or “spam.” The spam filter diverts many unsolicited messages, but since it may also filter important non-junk messages, it’s a good idea to glance through that inbox as well.
The sound of a new email being received and the tendency to check email frequently can distract employees from their actual work. Writing emails, especially on complicated issues, can be a time-consuming chore for some. Similarly, a poorly written email can lead to confusion, rather than clarity, in the workplace, and lead to time lost re-explaining what was originally intended. Most times, it’s more direct and more effective—not to mention less distracting—to communicate in person or over the phone.
It is no secret that smaller laboratories are finding it more and more difficult to compete with larger laboratories like milling centers that have more technological and human resources, sometimes available over multiple locations. These larger businesses also have more marketing capabilities, able to cast a wider net for clients. Nonetheless, while some smaller laboratories lose business as clients opt to work with “name brand” laboratories, others have chosen to evolve. Instead of trying to compete with larger businesses, some laboratories have developed and branded themselves as niche alternatives, offering specialized, more personal services to their clients.
It can seem impossible to safeguard your company's information from virtual threats. Any individual who knows how to spread computer viruses, phish, or hack can find whatever they want about your company, customers, finances, personal life, and so on. Company employees who use tweets to stay connected with customers and other colleagues may not realize that by tweeting, they could be sharing their exact location via GPS unawares, jeopardizing sensitive information that could easily fall into the wrong hands. With all the business information accessible on devices and in the cloud, it is vitally important that all healthcare facilities, including dental laboratories, take proper precautions against having their digital security compromised.
There’s no denying the benefits we have gained from the advancements made in our digital age, but, as with all things in life, there are always pros and cons. The impact of over-communication on our financial, social, mental, and physical wellness can be damaging to both life and business if it gets out of control. Creating balance can help everyone enjoy the benefits of technology without becoming needlessly distracted or at the mercy of data and statistics. In places of work, this can take many forms—from communicating in person or over the phone more often to coordinating physical or social activities with your team at work. Foster an environment where teammates work on only one thing at a time. And encourage people to take time off if they're getting burnt out, which will help employees recharge and come back ready to focus.
Nick Azar is a DAMAS consultant, business strategist, executive coach, and founder of Azar Associates in Santa Clarita, California.