Call the important messages "signal." Call the unimportant messages "noise." What's signal and what's noise varies based on context, it's a fluid division. If I'm in a Board meeting, nearly any interruption is noise. I don't care about a new Twitter follower right now, or even a reminder to take an exercise break. But there might be times I'm more open to interruptions.
What worries me though is the Internet of Things. What it will it mean for enterprise communications and enterprise productivity?
It's messaging and alerts, some generated by humans who truly are trying to tell me something, but increasingly these interruptions are blitzing me from automated systems. A story matching an important search term came up in Google Alerts or in an internal news feed. A workflow system telling me that a travel expense requires my signoff. Usage reports on the platform. Those are signal. The list of noise messages is much larger.
There's the real danger that as the signal/noise ratio gets worse, workers - myself included - will begin to tune out. When the watch, wristband or phone buzzes, you start to ignore it... and the messages pile up, just like old-fashioned voicemails when you were on vacation. "You have 157 new voicemails." We all remember: it was best to hit "delete all" and rationalise that if it was really important, they'd call back.
Another unpleasant alternative: people will turn off the notifications and messaging systems. I've already done that with most Twitter and Facebook alerts going to my phone, and aggressively unsubscribe to just about anything that I can. Anything, anything, to cut back on the noise. In other words, I'm willing to take the risk of missing an important message if that cuts back on the sheer overload. And remember, this is before widespread use of IoT in enterprise messaging, combining rich content like market data and breaking news. It's only going to get worse.
IoT comes to the Enterprise: An Agent of Change for Better Business Communications
Here's what I think we need: Communications platform designed, from the ground up, to filter and prioritise messages. We don't need complicated rules engines that will be too hard to configure, or which are too inflexible to adapt to changing signal/noise needs. We need to make sure that our messaging platforms respond to our employees' needs, rather than force our employees to adapt to the limitations of their messaging platforms.
My vision is of a system that helps filter the noise, while delivering the signal in ways that are smarter and more relevant to workers - whether via email, mobile phones, apps or the IoT.
The whole point of modern communications platforms is to enhance business efficiency and personal productivity. Most platforms today get that exactly backwards - it's too easy to add noise, and too hard to effectively filter the signal out of the noise.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.