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.
Smart home arrives in SA
The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.
The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.
The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.
The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.
The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.
The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.
My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.
Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.
Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?
These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.
Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.
Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.
Matrics must prepare for AI
By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.
Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.
With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.
Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.
Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist.
So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?
For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.
In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.
This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.
In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.
As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.
This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.
The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.