Are our digital workplace tools working against us?

pushing-rock-up-hill

Consumerization of the enterprise, the story goes, has helped usher in an era of unprecedented productivity as employees leverage the digital tools and platforms of their choice to do their jobs.

But is that story more fable than fact? Are employees who insist they can effectively multitask fooling themselves and their employers? And are enterprises undermining themselves by providing tools to employees that actually hamper productivity?

Over at Marketwatch, Vivek Wadhwa makes that very case. Wadhwa, a Distinguished Fellow at Harvard Law School and Carnegie Mellon’s School of Engineering at Silicon Valley, argues that the addictive nature of social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram have infiltrated work applications, “making our lives more disconnected, more disjointed, less productive, and less satisfying.”

He writes:

To take one of the most popular new business applications as an example: Slack uses numerous techniques that encourage workers to pay attention to it as much as possible. The most aggressive of them is a series of strong warnings to turn on desktop notifications, allowing Slack to pound them with notifications regardless of whether they are actively using the application. The company’s tagline, after all, is “Where Work Happens”: that is, “Don’t leave Slack; you will miss something and fail at your job.”

While Wadhwa hastens to point out that Slack the company has no dark motives, the unintended consequences of these techniques designed to encourage constant interaction with Slack the collaboration platform can’t be ignored.

“The barrage of notifications crushes efforts to perform thoughtful work requiring quiet, space, and uninterrupted mental effort,” he says.

Slack hardly is alone, Wadhwa says. Any number of collaboration or productivity work apps is loaded up with notification prompts and alerts designed to keep users returning. Beyond those apps are other technologies such as email and text that create constant distractions throughout the work day.

The result, he says, is “a cycle of increasing disaffection and disengagement.”

“We spend more and more time doing busy work and less and less time doing the substance of what we really want or need to be doing,” Wadhwa writes. “Work has become a series of unwanted addictions and useless actions that, at the end of the day, leave workers with nothing to show for the time and energy they have committed to it. It’s no wonder that surveys show a disturbing increase in the feeling that our jobs are meaningless: increasingly, they are.”

Do you think Wadhwa is overstating the case against Slack and other workplace tools that compete for the attention of employees? Or do you agree with him when he claims, “We all know this is happening”? Leave your comments in the space below!

Comments

  1. I have not read the original article from Wadhwa, so I am not sure if he is overstating the case or not, but one thing is for sure: digital workplace tools are a big boost on employee productivity, for those that will employ these tools properly. Tools should, however, not DRIVE how we work in the digital world – we still DRIVE and should DRIVE how we work, what tools to use, and when to use these tools. If by employing digital workplace tools one ends up enslaved to and mastered by the tools and is DRIVEN in his or her actions by the tools then employee productivity definitely goes down. Tools are there for the employees and not the employees for the tools!

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