Balancing automated notifications with compromised worker productivity

Post by Kimberly Lynn Workman

Ding! Weather alert!

Ding! You got email!

Ding! Someone re-tweeted you!

Did you know that the average computer user gets seven automated notifications every hour? Seven times when your concentration is broken, attention split between what you were working on and what information the alerts are bringing you. How do these interruptions impact our overall quality of work? What financial impact might they have on your company's profitability?

In the Paying Attention to Interruption: A Human-Centered Approach video lecture, Brian Bailey and his research team looked at the impact notifications have on users throughout their interactions with technology. While notifications cannot be conceived as necessarily bad, as they provide information to the user about activities happening elsewhere without causing the user to have to open each application separately to obtain data, they do disrupt the natural flow of concentration during user engagement. This not only causes the user to have to re-submerge themselves in the task at hand, but has an overall financial impact for increased task time.

With the problem in mind, what are some possible solutions? One is the delay of notifications until natural breakpoints within task completions. Through numerous studies, Bailey and his team found that notifications that occurred during natural breakpoints in work, between tasks, caused the user to have less anxiety, annoyance, and errors compared to when these notifications interrupted their work mid-task. And that by developing a method in which systems delay notifications until task breakpoints would lower overall costs, as well as improve user concentration on their sectioned tasks.

While controlling notifications within a single program would be easy to achieve, as the program is self-contained, to integrate a more overall system of control over notifications would mean that suppression of multiple programs would have to be involved. This would mean that the user would not have control over their notification system through negotiated techniques, but instead have that control taken out of their hands. Immediate notifications, such as emergency information, would be sacrificed for the company's financial good.

Is corporate control of your workspace the only solution? Or is there a middle ground where users can get their alerts without compromising productivity? What do you think? Tweet me @kimberlyFDR!