E-mail coming to the end of its road

E-mail may be reaching its end as a form of communication, according to Research Professor Kiti Müller and Specialised Researcher Virpi Kalakoski, experts of cognitive ergonomics at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.

E-mail coming to the end of its road

– I receive about three hundred emails a day. Everyone is kept in the loop just in case, so that nobody feels left out. But there you are, trying to find those ten e-mails among the three hundred that are actually important for your work, said Müller, who gave a talk on the subject at the Open Your Brain to Learning seminar on 19 May.

Important messages get overlooked while unnecessary messages build up the information overload and burden the short-term memory. If you have the sound option on, alerting you to each new e-mail that arrives, your concentration is even further disturbed.

Kalakoski said that nearly half of the people working experience interruptions that affect their performance either fairly frequently or constantly. One-sixth report having developed a poorer ability to concentrate and memory over the past few years, including young adults.

– If a person skips from one task to the next, this will inevitably incur additional cost. In laboratory tests, switching from one task to another has been noticed to slow performance by 10 to 30 per cent, said Kalakoski.

Knowledge-intensive work and using computers is nowadays an integral part of daily duties for 70 per cent of Finland’s workforce. As an example, Müller pointed out that a truck driver uses computers to determine the optimum route and a milk truck driver to test the quality of milk samples.

– Anybody can use the ticket machines at the stations to buy a ticket, as the machines will guide you through the process, but the computers and software that we use for work are not particularly easy to use. Often it feels like you shovelling snow with a 50-kilo spade, Kalakoski said, illustrating the point.

A member of the seminar audience shared her frustrating experience of having to use Travel expense management software and wondered why that particular software is still in use in so many places when everyone knows that it is so complicated that it takes up an enormous amount of people's time.

– The problem is in the tendering process. Software producers understand the problems users experience and would be willing to develop better systems. However, the buyer ultimately wants only a system with as little cost as possible, Kalakoski said.

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Text: Antti Kivimäki
Photo: 123rf
25.5.2011
Translation: AAC Global
University of Helsinki, digital communications


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