Interruptions reduce staff productivity

A recent study suggests approximately one-third of the work week is spent answering other peoples’ questions, leading to significant productivity loss.

Collaborative Strategies LLC, a San Francisco-based management services firm, conducted the survey on behalf of Mountain View, Calif.-based knowledge and expertise management solution provider ePeople. A total of 300 employees and managers participated, all from North American companies with annual revenues of US$50 million or more.

Those surveyed indicated that interruptive questions resulted in managers and team members spending just 68 per cent of the week performing their primary job. The rest of the time was spent answering repetitive questions, according to Collaborative.

Ed Shepherdson, vice-president of global customer support for Ottawa-based software vendor Cognos, an ePeople customer, said within his organization the most frequent interruptions occur when junior people interrupt senior people who have more knowledge. “Every time (it happens), it costs your company money. The time of that senior person is very valuable, and it creates a burden on senior resources that are being asked to provide the information down the channel repetitively.”

Another reason why productivity may go down has to do with frustration. “If you’re always answering the same questions, you have the potential to get frustrated and snarky,” he said. A typical knowledge worker is “primarily driven off of challenges. When you have to repeat something that has already been discovered, it takes its toll…. As you get interrupted, your effectiveness goes down because of your attitude.”

According to Anthony Lye, CEO of ePeople, the trouble is that many organizations don’t have a process in place to manage frequently asked questions and their respective answers.

He said it’s not as serious a problem for companies that sell books, airline tickets and financial products, where the types of questions that could be asked are somewhat limited. But for those that sell more complex products, like software, there are millions of potential questions to be answered, increasing the odds that an employee will have to interrupt someone else in order to solve a problem for a customer. “If you can’t resolve a situation and you have to resort to interrupting anyone you can think of, your company takes a double hit,” Lye said.

Of the study’s respondents, 84 per cent said they have no technology for expertise management and location. Of those, all but one said they used a home