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The disturbing secret of ‘Do not disturb’ signs

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On average, a person gets interrupted every three minutes when working in an office. However this can be minimised, writes NORA INVEISS, as is evident in a recent social experiment conducted by MapOn.

Did you know that the average person gets interrupted every 3 minutes at work? From coworkers that want to chat, to incoming emails, to Facebook notifications, there’s no shortage of distractions in today’s workplace.

Working in an open office space can be especially distracting, as there’s nothing separating you from everybody else. And we at GreyNut can attest to that. Our open office plan allows for plenty of collaboration and communication, but we’ve all longed for some peace and quiet at some point.

The good news is that there are plenty of tools that can minimize interruptions. Our sister company, MapOn, decided to experiment with 3 of them: headphones, a Luxafor device, and a paper “do not disturb” sign. Here are the rules of the experiment:

  • 3 programmers (who are busy and prone to interruptions) participated. They were each given one tool to try out.
  • The programmers had one month to test the effectiveness of their assigned “do not disturb” indicator and report their findings.
  • 20% of their day needed to be kept open for communication and impromptu discussions.

Which method works best? And if you’re wondering how to minimize interruptions at your workplace, what would work for you?

0-10 days into the experiment

So far, so good for every method. The experiment is fresh and everybody in the office respects every “do not disturb” indicator. There was even a poster put up about what each Luxafor light means.

The test subjects (programmers) are happy and they report that interruptions have gone down by 75%.

11-20 days into the experiment

Disruptions are slowly increasing all around. About 10% of staff completely ignore each “do not disturb” indicator either because of an urgent need, or they simply don’t care. Everyone else continues to comply.

The programmer with the paper sign finds that it’s easy to forget setting up the sign in the morning. And he doesn’t always notice when it falls down.

The Luxafor poster is helpful in reminding people to not interrupt when the light is flashing red. There are people that interrupt anyway, but many hold off and remember that the light will turn green later. Since the Luxafor is automated, the programmer doesn’t forget to change from red or green depending on availability.

Headphones are the most effective so far, as everybody can see that the programmer wearing them doesn’t want to be interrupted. With music playing, he also doesn’t hear distractions going on around him. The only downsides are that the programmer is more isolated from the rest of the group, and he sometimes forgets to put headphones back on after taking them off.

20-30 days into the experiment

The “do not disturb” sign is now pretty much ignored by everybody. It gets dropped on the ground, forgotten about by the programmer, and ignored by everyone else.

The Luxafor and headphones continue to perform the same – interruptions are lower and both methods are easy to use. Since the experiment started, interruptions have gone down by 72%.

Which method works for you?

If you’re looking for ways to focus and avoid interruptions at work, each of the methods we tested has its pros and cons.

A paper sign is free and so long as people remember to actually use it and respect it, it’ll get the job done. The downside is that it’s easy to forget about, and people might not take it seriously.

Headphones are very effective. You can block out noise and coworkers won’t want to bother you when you have them on. The downsides are that a good pair is expensive, being cut off from the rest of the office feels isolating, and it’s easy to forget putting them back on after taking them off.

Plus, listening to music has different effects depending on the person listening and the task being completed. Some might find that music helps them work productively. Others might find it too distracting.

The Luxafor can be automated, so you won’t forget about setting it up. There are, of course, people who will ignore the red light and interrupt you anyway. The Luxafor can adapt to the Pomodoro technique for Mac users, so coworkers know that even if the light is red, they’ll be able to drop by and chat soon enough. One downside is that it still doesn’t block out the noise and potential distractions around you. But hopefully people will know not to chat with you when they know you need to focus (or you can always wear headphones!).

Finally, it depends on your company culture and the type of work you do. Creative professions might require more open communication and collaboration than data-entry work, for example. We also suggest adopting guidelines, and making sure everyone is on the same page about respecting other’s time and focus.

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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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