Infobesity in the Workplace: What is it? How to Manage it?
We hear about “burnout” all the time. Employees are afraid of reaching the point of no return and employers spending millions of dollars to analyze their workforces in hopes of preventing turnover. But what really causes burnout? Is it purely physical fatigue or is there more to it? We’ve done a bit of digging and uncovered an interesting trend.
What is Infobesity in the Workplace?
It seems that any information we need is always just one click away. We receive countless texts, emails, and notifications from our colleagues, bosses, the media, and more. While this is often a good thing, sometimes we receive more information than our brains are humanly able to process. It’s pure biology. When the brain fails to assimilate information, we lose focus and can become overwhelmed.
“Information overload (IO) is having too much information with only a finite ability to process it. Sources of information like emails, search engines, TV news channels, social media channels and others are one of the main sources causing IO.”
Source: Sadiku, M. N., Shadare, A. E., & Musa, S. M. (1999). Information overload: causes and cures.
Information overload is also known as Infobesity or information anxiety. It’s a difficult concept to understand, but it’s worth taking a moment, as it challenges the effectiveness of decision-making, especially in the workplace.
Infobesity in the Workplace
Nearly 55% of office workers in the U.K. say they’re suffering from infobesity. As a result, 43% of those workers are stressed and 34% are feeling overwhelmed, according to Microsoft study called Defying Digital Distraction.
All industries suffer from infobesity in the workplace. Organizations that are undergoing a digital transformation should consider how it may affect their employees. In a digital workplace, we have access to tons of information. Employees and employers often go wrong in these situations. They use technology to speed up the old ways of working instead of reimagining how to improve working conditions. These practices often lead organizations to the point of infobesity.
Key questions employers should consider when implementing new technologies in the workplace are as follows:
- How easy is it for our employees to find information?
- Is information well structured?
- Do we deliver the right information?
- Is the flow of information effective?
- Do employees need access to all available data to make an informed decision?
- Can I ensure that my employees do not get overwhelmed?
Managing Infobesity in the Workplace
Intranet platforms are the shortest and most reliable access point to all corporate information. But is this all there is? Can it help employees escape the trap of information overload? In this next part of our series, we will answer these questions and explore different ways to manage infobesity in the digital workplace.
Information flow: old vs new approach
One of the key advantages of an intranet is its capacity to store and to facilitate accessibility for all work-related data. Hence it should offer a well-integrated internal search engine, to help employees surface and “pull” all the information they need. While crucial to the corporate intranet, the search is not the best tool to fight and manage infobesity in the workplace.
By nature, people need data and insight in order to make informed decisions. Lack of information hinders the decision-making process. However, excess information usually complicates a decision as well. Don’t get us wrong, exploring all angles of a problem is always a good approach, but in the attempt to process big amounts of data, employees can lose out on useful information.
Imagine what would happen if only the right information was actually delivered to you! New corporate intranets need to adopt a “push”-inspired information strategy, where data is segmented before it’s delivered. Optimizing the delivery process will allow the organization to manage information flow and decrease the risk of overwhelming employees.
How to manage infobesity in the workplace?
Adding to the list of Intranet Myths, we can say that intranet platforms are no longer just hosting files and tables. Modern platforms truly organize information. They structure unstructured data by using metadata and tags, with the purpose to improve the everyday work life of employees.
It can give us a better insight into how intranets can use targeted information. In information science, this refers to the process of generating user profiles through computerized data analysis. By using algorithms, organizations can distinguish patterns and correlations between employees.
Smarter ways to provide information
To build user profiles as an intranet owner, you can explore the following data to form the right patterns:
- Search and preview history – Intranet can explore the history of employee activity and choose to target the most relevant documents, articles or contacts. Taking into account the search request or the latest open documents can give the software enough data that best represents the needs of the employee.
- Most popular based on similar profiles – “you are probably not the first.” Quite often questions have already been asked and answered by someone else. Employees in the same department, team or project need the same data. The intranet can target information, based on the latest search or upload from similar employee profiles.
- Complementary content – departments work better together. Easy access to related content from another team will directly affect an employee’s productivity. This means that information can be pushed according to the degree of collaboration between departments, for more symbiotic work relationships.
Furthermore, the intranet structure itself plays an important role in managing infobesity in the workplace. Here are a few more examples of how to group employees according to their profiles:
- Separate department/ business unit sites within the corporate intranet
- Organize people into working groups around common projects
- Create communities according to employee interests
- Highlight sections or notifications according to departments
An intranet platform’s structure and organization are the strongest weapons in the fight against infobesity in the workplace. Besides gathering information and providing easy access, intranets enable employees to have better control over their work time.
Managing Infobesity: 5 Tips for Employees
Who is responsible for solving problems like infobesity? Is it a job for the internal communications team, or maybe all employees play a role? Do we need a top-down approach or maybe a more vertical one?
From employees’ perspective
People are expected to absorb and handle big quantities of data, constantly. Every day we are exposed to a stream of global news updates, technology developments or political issues. Whether we realize it or not, our decisions are affected by various aspects, in the same way, that our day-to-day choices are influenced by targeted advertisements. Information comes from various sources like social media, TV, the Internet and its influence reach beyond our personal sphere. The way we’re exposed to information on a daily basis is also reflected in our workplace
- At Home – 90% of SMS messages are read within 3 minutes.
- At Work – 85% of work e-mails are opened within two minutes
- But are those good habits? – It takes 24 minutes to get back on task after opening an email
The habits we create in everyday communication and in collecting information are transferred at work too. Combined with the high digitalization levels in the workplace, they cause the acceleration of information overload factors.
Employees managing infobesity: Tips and Tricks
Employees play an important role in the fight against information overload. Thus it’s necessary to raise awareness on the ways employees can manage infobesity while performing day-to-day work tasks.
Here are 5 tips for more efficient and productive work:
1. Limit research time
The abundance of information can be addictive. Employees should allocate a limited time period for information gathering. This reduces the unproductive time zone they fall into when following a couple of “related” links.
2. Choose priority tasks
The human brain has its limits! It’s advisable to choose from 3 to 5 daily tasks, and only work on those during the day. Employees can use a to-do list, yet they can go a bit further and divide tasks into shorter daily lists, which will keep the focus longer and help avoid information overload.
We all do it. But the question is: can we do it better? Employees often switch between tasks, because they feel stuck. But each distraction or the start of a new task has its price. It is recommended to group similar daily tasks in slots next to each other. This allows to transfer relevant information from one task to another and will reduce concentration time. It will also reduce the cognitive load that occurs when the human brain collects new information.
The above 2 tips are particularly useful when it comes to meetings. Scheduling too many meetings in a day can affect the ability to stay focused. Define a daily slot for meetings and organize similar work meetings next to each other to keep employees away from burnout.
Emails are not the only interruptions at work. We get distracted by all types of phones, communities, social media or other notifications. Employees should adjust the notification settings on all work-related tools. Disabling alerts during meetings, work slots and even on breaks will help to better concentrate on the task at hand.
Following the above advice, employees will be able to control their workflow and escape the overload caused by unlimited information and access to resources.
Key takeaways: Managing infobesity in the workplace can improve the overall performance and productivity of employees. Individuals should be cautious with their usage of and their exposure to data. The corporate intranet provides organizations with essential tools to structure and optimize information.