NYT talks with Ed Reilly of the American Management Association on technologys double-edged impact in the workplace.
Q. Do all the distractions mean that people dont have time to think deeply about what theyre doing?
A. There is certainly some indication that in middle to upper management, that can be a problem. If you dont properly organize your thinking and your time, you can end up concentrating on the urgent rather than the important. You can get tied up being a traffic cop in terms of answering e-mails, when in fact those things can be answered later. Management, particularly the more senior management, needs time to think.
Q. If people have a sale happening on eBay, are using several e-mail platforms and their cellphones and their office lines, does that fracture their attention span?
A. Absolutely. When people switch gears and move from one process to another, our brains require some amount of time to begin thinking about something else. Forget the amount of time you actually spend browsing on the Internet and reading things you dont really need to read for your job. Just the fact that youre switching back and forth means youre not organizing your time correctly.
Q. What impact do the distractions have on working-level people?
A. Theres a curious anomaly. These tools produce more productivity. But it doesnt imply that everyone is working at maximal effectiveness. Theres a general consensus that managing the quality and quantity of work from knowledge workers has proven to be more difficult than managing the work-study processes that added so much productivity to the industrial age. For example, you can assign people to customer relations jobs. They will, if you make them, respond to, say, 120 inquiries a day. The real question is whether they take a few more minutes to think about what the customer really wants and try to be responsive.
For my money, though, this one is the quote of the week:
Companies go to great lengths to set up lists of authorized approvals, meaning who can approve what size of purchase. But you will find that people who are not authorized to spend $100 on their own are authorized to send e-mails to people and waste hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of company time.