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Tuesday, June 1, 1999 Published at 15:26 GMT 16:26 UK


Sci/Tech

New technology makes work harder



New office technology is becoming a hindrance to work, rather than a help.


The BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones investigates the wired workplace
A new survey of office workers in four countries shows that most are interrupted every 10 minutes by telephones, faxes and emails.

UK workers are the most troubled, with 38% saying they are very distracted by the interruptions.

They are swamped by an average 171 emails per day, although Americans struggle to cope with over 200. UK workers also say that nearly half of their email is from people in their own department.

World 'more intrusive'


[ image: Overload: Phone, fax, pager, email, voice mail, snail mail]
Overload: Phone, fax, pager, email, voice mail, snail mail
The lineage of supposedly labour-saving devices runs from the fax, to voice mail, to mobile telephones and email.

But Dr Simon Moore, a computer industry consultant, told the BBC: "The world is becoming more and more intrusive. Consequently, you are becoming more pressed to get back to more people - it becomes a barrier to doing the job you are paid for."

However, the report, commissioned by Pitney Bowes Inc and carried out by Institute for the Future and Gallup, says individuals who become expert in the new communication technologies are making themselves very marketable commodities.

Workers not using the technologies efficiently may be the reason for the sense of information overload. In the UK, 42% of email users only began sending electronic messages in the last year.

Filter messages


[ image: Throw it away: One way of coping]
Throw it away: One way of coping
The report says filtering all your messages according to their importance and deadline is a key skill to learn. This means ignoring non-urgent messages and there are signs that UK workers are starting to do this.

One worker in the report says: "I can't control the flow of messages, but I can control the time at which I respond to them."

Different nationalities prefer different ways of communicating, the report finds and it says these should be taken into consideration in international communication.

For example, nearly all US workers use voice mail every day compared to only a third of Germans. Twice as many UK workers (46%) use mobile phones every day than in Germany or the US.

The report says that expert communicators use different tools at different times. Early in a project, time-delayed tools (email, voicemail) allows people to get on with their work.

But as deadlines approach, real-time tools (telephone, meetings) need to be used to make sure the work is done on time.

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