On Digitalisation and Fragmentation of Time

Diane Golay and Åsa Cajander did a presentation on Fragmentation of Time and Digitalisation for the Uppsala University Academic Senate this fall. This blog post captures some of what we said in the presentation.  Enjoy!

Digitalisation of work sometimes has the unintended side effect that it fragments our time. Fragmentation commonly refers to the separation of activities into many discrete pieces. It is usually calculated based on two different aspects: the length of continuous work episodes, and the number of interruptions. In those terms, fragmented work is characterized  by short work tasks and frequent interruptions, as opposed to a work rhythm made of few but long work episodes with no or few interruptions.

Several studies have pointed to the increasing fragmentation of our work.  For instance, a 2009 study found that people switched tasks about every 12 minutes. Two years later, another study found that a modern worker’s day comprised an average of 88 work episodes, most of which (90%) lasted for 10 minutes or less. The found average duration for those work episodes was of just under three minutes.

Work fragmentation is related to a perceived increase in work pace and work intensity. It is also detrimental to the actual work taking place. The causes of fragmentation can be both external, such as a phone call or a computer that stops working, or internal, i.e. self-initiated, such as looking up an information on the web while working on a report.

External interruptions have a particularly negative effect on work. A context switch requires cognitive overhead, and context- switching is related to time costs. Concrete negative consequences of external interruptions include errors, stress, work delay, difficulty resuming the interrupted task, and increased user frustration. Interruptions are however not always negative: inquiries, breaks, and adjustments can facilitate the primary task by providing valuable information or creating an environment that encourages increased productivity. Context plays a significant role in determining whether interruptions are considered to be beneficial or detrimental. In general, interruptions that occur outside of one’s current working sphere context are disruptive as they lead one to (sometimes radically) shift their thinking. In contrast, interruptions that concern one’s current working sphere are considered helpful.

However, it should be noted that fragmentation is also a natural part of our work. Work tasks are to a small or high degree woven together and fragmented in complex patterns. Workers seldom work with one task at the time. Interruptions are a to some extent also a natural part of our work. Breaks are for example crucial for collaboration and learning.

So we should not aim for a fully continuous workflow, but might want to try and reduce external and internal interruptions that are not related to the task(s) at hand. Finding an amount of fragmentation that works for us will enable us to boost our work performance, reduce our cognitive workload, and simply make us feel better at and about our work.

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[1] Jin, J., & Dabbish, L. A. (2009). Self-interruption on the computer. Proceedings of the 27th International Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems – CHI 09, 1799. https://doi.org/10.1145/1518701.1518979

[2] Wajcman, J., & Rose, E. (2011). Constant connectivity: Rethinking interruptions at work. Organization Studies, 32(7), 941–961. https://doi.org/10.1177/0170840611410829

Halvdagskonferens: Stress, näthat och teknikstrul

Arbetsmiljölagen fyller 40 år i år. Det firas den 28 november med en halvdagskonferens på temat digital arbetsmiljö och “40-åring i behov av ett digitalt uppvaknande”, för att citera inbjudan. Konferensen har tre teman: det flexibla arbetslivet, inflytande, uppföljning och övervakning samt hot och trakasserier. Gerolf Nauwerck från HTO kommer att vara en av presentatörerna.

28 Nov 2017 13:00 – 28 Nov 2017 16:30
DIK, Bondegatan 21, Stockholm
Arrangör: Arenagruppen
Obligatorisk anmälan

How to Prevent bad IT

Badly implemented IT is a costly affair. According to reports from Unionen (a Swedish union), there are tens of millions of Euro to be saved, in Sweden alone. Many problems are also well known and there are ways to address them. Yet knowledge about both problems and solutions is limited. One actor trying to spread best practices is the Swedish health promoting agency Prevent (jointly owned and managed by the employer and employee organisations).

Prevent recently teamed up with a number of Swedish researchers in this field, including our own professor Bengt Sandblad to develop a solution to this. The solution (also mentioned in an earlier blog post here) is an online guide covering a number of stages and aspects relating to ICT requirements, development and implementation.

The guide was featured in local newspaper Uppsala Nya Tidning (here and here) and the coverage indicates that there is an increasing awareness and understanding of the issues.

You can find the guide from Prevent here: www.prevent.se/it/

“The digital development has changed the core of working life” according to professor Bengt Sandblad

Our work environment is more and more digitalized. Many of us use a large number of IT systems in our work every day. Dysfunctional computer system becomes a work environment problem.

Professor Bengt Sandblad from the HTO group has done a report for the work environment authority in Sweden, He is also working on a book and he is also working on a book on the digital work environment. The book will appear around Christmas.

This week Bengt Sandblad is interviewed in Universen and some of the key ideas in the article are:

  • The potential benefits of IT systems is often lost due to usability problems.
  • The digital development will not to slow down. On the contrary:  it will move faster and faster.
  • Often IT systems are not adapted to the needs of people, or the organization.
  • Information overload is a crucial problem.
  • We need to design systems that are made for human cognition.
  • We have a tendency to build systems based on what computers are good at. Not what people are good at.
  • There is a risk that work is what is left when the computers have done what they aren’t good at doing.

For more information read the full article 🙂 

 

 

Singing Mice doing the Digital Transformation

Romantic mice actually do sing. This was but one message from the conference Gilla jobbet (“Enjoy Work”). The event is a joint venture including a number of central actors on the Swedish labour market, who focus on workers’ health and safety. The conference itself had four major tracks: health promotion, the digital work environment, assessment and retention. If you missed it, it will go on tour in spring 2018. (Edit: some seminars were video recorded and you can watch them here.)

One presentation in the health promotion track–by Frida Fossland and Sara Leijonqvist–related to work life balance. Frida Fossland’s message was that we need to be observant of the more subtle aspects of flexible work. Sure, hyper connectivity 24/7 can be a striking aspect, but flexible work also creates tensions between employer and employee that needs to be taken care of–as traditional modes of management by walking around no longer apply. To support this, Prevent (a Swedish health promoting agency) has developed Balansguiden (“The Work Life Balance Guide”). This is an online tool supporting both the employer and the employee with the ultimate goal of facilitating discussions in the workplace relating to policies and strategies for flexible work. It is quite an impressive product and it actually was awarded first prize at the International Media Festival for Prevention in 2017.

One of the main sessions was a joint presentation on the topic of digitalization and the work environment. Sweden’s digitalization champion Jan Gulliksen introduced the topic with an emphasis on the societal aspects of the digital transformation, though with many examples from everyday work. He also promoted a book on the subject that will be released just before Christmas, a book where our colleague Bengt  Sandblad is one of the co-authors.

This was followed by a presentation by Jonas Söderström, Sweden’s usability guru. He is the author of the book Jävla Skitsystem (Stupid **** system!) and is a key figure in establishing public awareness around the topic. He did a great presentation and the figures really brought home the message. Finally, Anna Pramborg from Sunt Arbetsliv ended the session with a preview of a new framework–aimed at municipalities and counties–also related to improving the digital work environment.

The main event at this session was nevertheless the presentation by Fredrik Beskow of the new online tool Inför rätt IT (“Do IT right”) from Prevent, aimed at supporting organisations during digital transformation. This tool in many ways represents Swedish state of the art in this respect, as the team behind it included among others aforementioned Jonas Söderström as well as our own Bengt Sandblad. Fredrik Beskow did stress that this was the first version and that the team were hoping to get lots of  feedback so that the tool could be developed furher.

The day ended with a brilliant piece of entertainment. Stand up comedian Måns Möller and stress researcher Dan Hansson (an Uppsala University alumni) successfully combined humor and science in their show Öka livet! (“More life!”). And yes, it was in this show that the singing mice were introduced. It turns out that mice actually court by singing and we got the opportunity to listen to a smal serenade.

All in all not a bad day at work

Many IT Systems are Illegal, Prof. Bengt Sandblad Claims

 

The digital work environment refers to the problems and possibilities of both physical, psychosocial and cognitive nature which results from the work tools being digitalized. Digital work environment is one of the research areas of the HTO group, and several of the members of the group work with the TIGER project since a few years.

Bengt Sandblad is our most prominent and experienced reseracher in the area of digital work environments, and he claims that:

Many IT systems are illegal, and should be stopped!

What does he mean by this? Well, if the  Working Environment Act was used properly many IT systems  would be stopped and not used, he claims.

Professor Bengt Sandblad explores this further and is cited in this article found in Vårdfokus which is the nurses’ union’s magazine (in Swedish).

artikel i Vårdfokus .png

The article describes that IT in health care has serious usability flaws and one of the people interviewed , Kerstin Forsberg, chief of the Health Professionals at Skaraborg Hospital Skövde, thinks that the new Working Environment Act launched in 2016 will help in adressing these problems.

However, professor Bengt has serious doubts and says that the  new regulations are not sufficiently detailed to specific deficiencies in the IT environment to be identified and addressed.

Bengt Sandblad emphasizes that better IT and working environment requires action by all parties involved.  Workers need to aquire the skills required, and be sure to acquire knowledge to identify and tackle the problem. Employers and IT industry need to focus more on good digital work environment and the Work Environment Authority must become better at using the laws that are there to intervene.

If you are interested in reading more about professor Bengt Sandblad’s work in this area we recommend the following (also in Swedish):

  • Störande eller stödjande? Om e-hälsosystemens användbarhet 2013, rapport från Vårdförbundet med flera.
    http://tinyurl.com/storande