Thursday, December 17, 2009

(empo-tymshft) (empo-tuulwey) Why haven't you acted on this post yet?

When I initially joined the workforce, I worked as a clerk-typist. This meant that I would go to a primitive device called a typewriter, and I would type something called a memorandum (or, using the tech-speak of the day, a "memo"). This memo would then be placed in an envelope and would reach its recipient in a matter of days. Once the recipient got the memo, it would go into a prioritization system known as an "in box," and would be sorted according to then-common prioritization criteria (acronym lovers may recognize the acronyms "FIFO" and "LIFO," two very advanced prioritization systems that were used at the time).

So when my boss asked me to type a memo, he or she did not expect the recipient to respond within minutes.

Boy, has that changed. Chris Murphy at InformationWeek describes modern expectations:

Enterprise social networking is gaining interest among CIOs, for a lot of good reasons. People are working in far-flung organizations, trying to keep track of ever-more inputs to their businesses, and worrying about losing opportunities that might come from connecting the right people inside their companies. And there's a dash of consumer-tech envy. Expressing his admiration for Facebook and Twitter at last month's Dreamforce conference, Benioff said that, "Once again we've been eclipsed by the consumer."

The fear, though, comes from a very real risk of employees being overloaded, in a way that's different than the generic information overload with which we've long wrestled. The new risk is something more targeted--something like "data feed overload," though you can probably offer a better term for it. People get automated feeds from the human resource app to approve vacations, the purchasing app, the travel app, each of them calling for a specific action. They get updates every time a collaboration wiki to which they've subscribed is updated, and they have a dashboard of key performance indicators.

Cool, isn't it? There's only one problem:

All that information comes with an expectation that if it can be delivered, you must be aware of it and monitoring it for problems.

Um, no.

Just because we have new tools (and older tools, such as electronic mail, telexes, and faxes) that can get information to you RIGHT NOW, that doesn't necessarily mean that the human brain has become better equipped to multi-task or operate in a real-time mode.

I may not have an in box in my cubicle, but I have virtual in boxes everywhere. In my corporate electronic mail application, I use folders and tags to differentiate items that I need to work on immediately, vs. items that I can save for later. Google Reader has its "star" feature, which I often use to put something in the "deal with later" section of my virtual in box.

So what will you do with this post? Basically, you have the same options that I had in 1980, albeit in a virtual form.
  • You can take immediate action on this post, perhaps going to the Disqus-powered comments section to add your own observation, or perhaps sharing it via Google Reader or FriendFeed or Digg or some other service. Or maybe you'll write your own post that references this post or the InformationWeek item.

  • You can "file" the post for later action, perhaps starring it in Google Reader, perhaps bookmarking it, or perhaps doing some of the same items I listed above (sharing in Google Reader, sharing in FriendFeed, Digging it) to allow you to return to it at a future time.

  • Or, you can place this post in the virtual equivalent of the "round file" (i.e. the trash can) and move on to the latest Intel or Tiger Woods news (hopefully not in the same article).
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