FOMO - the ‘fear of missing out’ - has officially entered the workplace

So, here's the thing: technology that promises to boost your productivity, actually prevents you from being productive at all - if not used wisely.

And here’s the cause: nobody teaches end-users to use these things 'wisely'.

Sure, there are training programs, and trainers, teaching you how to 'use' certain tools, what the user interface looks like, and which buttons to press. But hardly any trainers will actually dare to go into the field of 'use wisely'. Because then sometimes the conclusion might be: don't use. At least, don't use all the time, or don't use as typical marketing stories tell you to use.

I do. I go there, with you.

I don't consider myself a trainer, but a Digital Enabler. And the key word here is 'enabler'. I'm enabling you to get work done using the innovative technology that you - freely or out of obligation - use. Probably at work. Maybe at home too.

Let's take one concrete example: Office 365.

Office 365 is a class example, although there aren't that many players in that same league. Office 365 is the best - hands down.

But, even with the best digital platform such as Office 365, your productivity is severely at risk! Your productivity as an organization, as a team, and certainly as an individual.

Office 365 is a platform - and that means that it houses a lot of interconnected tools that somehow seem to make your life easier, because you have this wide range of tools that you can use. For each problem, for each situation, for each workstyle there must be a component in the platform that enables just that.

And if you go to a 'training' and you will hear a typical trainer explain a tool, this believe might even get confirmed.

Unfortunately, it doesn't work out that way - because as your organization introduces such a digital platform, you are very often confronted with too many options. At the same time. And that's a problem. Several problems.

Hand water

Some examples…

Less email?

Tools like Teams, Yammer, Project, Sharepoint Online will promise such great utopias as 'less email'. If you are very lucky, this might be true - but most likely it's not. Because how do you stay up to date on what's happening in Teams, Yammer and the likes?

Reality check: to stay up to date on what's happening in these tools, and to react timely (because you think your boss and colleagues 'expect' you to do so) you need to either keep one eye constantly on these tools - in which case you can forget about actually working. It's like trying to concentrate with your Facebook page open on screen. Doesn't work. The alternative: right, you'll revert to notifications, and guess what: that most likely triggers emails, just saying obscure messages like 'this is a notification, click me to go the tool, and see the actual message'. So that doesn't sound like progress. It's a huge step back.

Less email, again?

Take Skype, or Teams, because there's overlap these days. One of the things these tools enable is instant messaging. Instant messaging allows you to ask a quick question, get a quick answer, and in the process, you'll avoid a lot of emails. This is, in a way, true, because indeed too many email conversations are in fact hidden chats. Well, not even hidden, to be honest. We all know.

Reality check: so, yes, it's great to be able to see who'se available and ask a quick question and - if you're lucky - get instant response, allowing you to not be blocked in your own work. The downside is not so much on the sender’s side, but on the receiver’s side. This person will receive a pop-up and even if not willing to respond, gets disturbed in his/her work. If the person is actually responding, the lost focus is even much bigger. Before you know it, you've lost 5 minutes just by answering a quick question from someone else. It's exactly like someone knocking at your door - do you have a minute? Right, it's never a minute. And by the time you are able to continue work, you've forgotten what you were doing.

In context working?

Some tools, again like Teams, promise you 'in context working'. Meaning that things that belong together, stick together. Your communication and your files and your apps, that belong to a certain context, are all grouped together in one spot. Sounds good, doesn't it? 

Reality check: one person doesn’t just work in one context - you will have very many contexts, meaning your information and communication will be fragmented like hell. Where did I put that file? Where did I communicate about the problem? I don't remember… By working in context, you sacrifice one very important context: your own.

Who's still working alone? It's all about collaboration, right?

Collaboration and communication - yes - it's important. Nobody still works alone, it's all working together these days. Even working in documents and spreadsheets is more and more done with several persons, at the same time. And it's even possible within those documents and spreadsheets to chat and talk virtually to each other. Sounds super productive, right?

Reality check: The problem is that we seem to translate this to 'always connected, always on' and that's an error. What we are forgetting is that, even in team work, the actual work is still done by individuals. And I'm not referring to such shallow activities as meetings or other forms of communication - no I'm talking about concentration time, deep work. Even in a team you need focus time. In fact you need a lot of it. And ouch - bad luck - it's become so difficult to achieve this. Oh, you can, probably between 22h and 23h when colleagues leave you in relative peace.

I’m a multitasker, so what’s the problem?

Multitasking – it’s a phenomenon. You can do several things at the same time, that sounds fantastic. And because you do a lot of things at the same time, you can have positive spin-off between your different activities.

Reality check: It’s been demonstrated repeatedly that multitasking is inefficient – on average your productivity goes down by 50% and your stress level goes up. Recently I read something even stronger, and I think it’s true: multitasking is the excuse of people who are unable to focus.

The list is longer but let me stop here. I think the point is clear. I’m involved in several organizations in transition, and so many end users are overwhelmed by the different communication channels, the multitude of places to store information, the plethora of potential ‘workplaces’ – and get lost in the forest. For them, it doesn’t feel like an improvement. They are longing back to the days of ‘just’ email and telephone.

Don' get me wrong: I love technology and I particularly love Office 365, but the promises that these technologies hold are often NOT FULFILLED and in many cases your productivity will DECREASE, and your stress will INCREASE. FOMO - the ‘fear of missing out’ - has officially entered the workplace and most people didn’t see it coming. And still don’t see it coming.

Simply because nobody guides the organization, the team, the individual into the proper use of these technologies. Sure, you need to learn the user interfaces and you need to know which buttons to press, but most of all, you need guidance on how to use it, when to use, and when not to use it. Use wisely - it's possible - if you have good team agreements and a trusted personal productivity system.

Get to know the forest, before you start focusing on the trees. 

Let me help you with that.


 (Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash)