Information overload? 5 tips to tame team collaboration apps

While the rise of popular collaboration tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts has been a boon to worker productivity, there's a downside: The seemingly endless parade of distractions, morning, noon and night. Here's how to turn down the noise and get more work done.

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According to a survey of 2,000 U.S. office workers commissioned earlier this year by LogMeIn, 54% of employees have at least five different programs running simultaneously, and 56% use at least three different tools to stay connected with colleagues. This can hit productivity: 59% of respondents felt they’re wasting time by switching between apps.

“Workers are losing momentum and wasting time swapping between all the different solutions for different tasks, rather than being able to maintain focus and handle all of their communications from a single, centralized point,” says Mark Strassman, senior vice president and general manager for unified communications and collaboration at LogMeIn.

“As a result, nearly 60% of workers today feel that they are wasting time having to switch between apps for different tasks,” Strassman says.

Many apps can make it easy to feel busy without actually getting much done. Workers have to focus on how they use communication and collaboration tools and decide they’re doing so effectively, says Terry Simpson, technical evangelist at workflow automation software vendor Nintex.

“It is very easy to stay ‘busy’ with email, apps, IMs and all kinds of other software tools without actually achieving much,” he says. “At the end of the day, you must look at yourself and determine if you were truly busy, or did you accomplish something that helped drive the business forward? Keeping that focus is key.”

There are ways to avoid constantly flitting between apps, and software vendors are attempting to solve the problem.

One of the advantages of collaboration tools is their ability to hook into other communication, productivity and line-of-business apps. Slack, for instance, has more than 1,500 third-party application integrations in its app store, while rivals such as  Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex Teams and Google Hangouts Chat add to their own integrations on a regular basis. As a result, deep interconnectivity between collaboration tools is expected.  In fact, several companies are now jostling for position to become a central hub for digital work. Dropbox, for example, recently overhauled its core application to support collaboration around documents, a indicator of where the market is going.

Third-party integrations allow users to perform a range of tasks without switching apps, such as adding information to work management tools like Trello or Asana; previewing Dropbox, Google Drive or Box files; or kicking off video meetings in Zoom or BlueJeans with a single click. Slack also recently announced it will let users communicate with email users directly from its application.

While better-connected collaboration apps don’t eliminate the need to jump into other tools altogether, they can help reduce demands on users, making it important that users get acquainted with available integrations and give them a try.

"Twenty-three minutes is the general lore about how much time it takes to get back on task after an interruption,” says Rivera. “Having to switch between tools (launch, juggle password, absorb different UX) makes it extremely hard to complete the simplest tasks in a straight and efficient line We need more ‘single pane of glass’ workplace experiences to help reduce this problem. Time is precious. Integrating third party app use into these collaboration tools helps reduce distraction while increasing focus and efficiency.

5. Learn to ‘single-task’

The ability to multitask has been applauded as desirable in the past, but research from Stanford University has shown that multitasking can actually be inefficient and something humans are not particularly well suited to do.

Focusing properly on one task at a time can be a more productive, and less stressful, approach. It is a skill that is honed over time, says Iba Masood, co-founder and CEO of Tara AI, a startup that uses machine learning to help customers plan software development projects.

“Focusing on a single task (or single-tasking) at any given point of time enables us to build up our ‘attention muscle,’” she says.

Given the variety of tasks and team-related notifications requiring attention, the ability to focus on one task at a time requires willpower, says Masood. “Single-tasking is a forcing function; it truly enables a level of focus and allows me to singularly pay attention to one area in 20-minute intervals before moving on to the next.”

It’s a decision that requires discipline. LogMeIn’s Gentile recommends a time management technique called “timeboxing” to set aside time to focus on one task intently. “Find more efficient ways to complete tasks by allocating yourself a predetermined amount of time to finish a project,” he says. “This will help you focus your attention, motivate you to complete tasks in a timely manner and prevent you from wasting time on items of less importance.”

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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