Eye-catching title: I Can’t Get My Work Done! How Collaboration & Social Tools Drain Productivity. In March 2011, Harmon.iesponsored a uSamp survey of 515 email users in sales, marketing, human resources, and legal departments of U.S. companies. Forty-five percent reported working 15 minutes or less without an interruption and "60% of work interruptions now involve either using tools like email, social networks, text messaging and IM, or switching windows among disparate standalone tools and applications." Fifty-three percent report wasting at least an hour a day due to distractions of one form or another. Do the math and the effect on business payroll is staggering: $10,375 per person per year according to the report. Plugged-in managers and employees may be better off if they manage human, technical, and organizational process dimensions at the same time -- this is not the time to shut off all your electronic tools. Yes, the report shows that most work disruptions are electronic. However, some of these electronic tools are paralleling older forms of work -- these distractions have always been there. For example, twenty-three percent of the respondents said they get sidetracked by email processing. Forty-years ago these same people might have been distracted by their hardcopy inbox. That said, would we have had as many memos in our inbox forty years ago? Seems unlikely and we have "reply all" to thank for much of this. This is an example of negative outcomes following from a combination of a technology feature (reply all) and user behavior (using reply all). It's rarely (never?) one or the other. The report outlines some of the actions being taken by management and employees to manage their distractions:

  • 68% of respondents reported that their employers have implemented policies or technologies to minimize distractions, while 73% of end users have adopted self-imposed techniques to help maintain focus.
  • The #1 corporate strategy used to discourage digital diversion is blocking access to public social networks such as Facebook and/or other non-business websites (48%).
  • [Unfortunate in my view - your employees can bring you value from their personal social networks.]
  • Other corporate techniques used to promote digital efficiency include tracking online usage patterns (29%), training (25%), deployment of an enterprise collaboration and social platform that aggregates information in a single window (13%), No Facebook Fridays (6%) and No Email Fridays (3%).
  • In the case of end users, 51% try to minimize distractions by reading emails in batches, 28% by working outside the office, and 25% by disconnecting from IM/email and phone a few hours a day.

    To the extent that human, technical, and organizational process issues are being considered in concert, I commend the managers and employees for making the best of this complex situation. I also commend companies likeHarmon.ieJive/Offisync, and Google Apps for providing tools to make our work more manageable. No, these tools alone are unlikely to remove all our distractions, but they are a significant step toward integrating our email and documents so that we can be more productive through less search and easier collaboration. My advice is to stop-look-listen regarding your own activities, tools, and requirements. Then be proactive about mixing the best approach -- use the examples noted above as a start. Finally, a challenge -- is there anyway a reasonable mixing can be done with plain vanilla email being the backbone of your collaboration strategy? I don't think so, but I'd appreciate seeing counter perspectives.