How does Technology Help or Hinder Attention?

by Cory Treffiletti, CMO, Voicea

We live in a world full of distraction and overrun by technology.  Technology is supposed to make our lives easier and in many ways it does, but the simple fact is there are many cases where it adds unnecessary complexity and can diminish the way we work because it is in direct conflict with the way we are “wired”.

First of all, technology, especially notifications, create distractions.  Technology, especially the internet and digital media, creates a hyper-connected world where we are "always on”.  We are never more than a single click away from information and most of that information is curated using AI technology to be customized to our interests and desires.  When we are constantly distracted by what is considered important to us, it makes the world more difficult to focus on where you are and what you're doing. This manifests in clear ways through multi-tasking.  Multi-tasking can be incredibly helpful but when out of balance it becomes a disease and its contagious. There are pros to multitasking when it comes to simple tasks, but the human brain requires focus for it to properly process stimuli and come up with solutions to situations.  There is extensive research that states the act of switching between two things takes longer mentally. Multi-tasking routinely results in “busy work”, or the feeling of constantly doing things, but nothing important is getting done. Multi-tasking creates frustration, and that leads to a negative view of your work and further beyond.  Multi-tasking and distraction are cousins - in the same family, with similar genes, but only overlapping from time to time. That being said, the outcome is the same for both - a less effective employee.

Secondly, technology creates a wall around us that makes it more difficult to engage and truly empathize with others.  Interpersonal human relationships require you to get to know someone, and you can only do that by looking them in the eye and focusing on conversation.  You share thoughts and ideas, you establish rapport, and you find areas where two people have similar points of view. This results in connection and connection is rooted in empathy, where you understand the motivations and feelings of whomever you are speaking with.  At work, it’s really no different. If you establish a rapport with co-workers, and if you connect with them, it creates a better culture and results in better, more productive engagement at work. You are more willing to go out on a limb and/or support the ideas of a colleague that you trust, respect and connect with than it is to be asked to go out of your way for someone you really don’t know, or someone you may not even like.  Empathy is just as important at work as it is at home and with friendships, but when the technology gets in the way it becomes harder. These days entirely too much interaction happens through technology. It takes place in email, over IM, or through other messaging applications. These environments dehumanize the interaction and that results in a lack of connection and no real empathy between the two parties. When there are opportunities for inter-personal engagement, such as in meetings, you end up with laptops and cell phones in front of people, creating a distraction and putting up that “wall” which means not all 100% of your attention is being focused on the people in the room or the conversation being had.

Technology, in this case, creates a distraction.

In a work environment you spend a lot of time making sure you hire the right people.  You look for people with the right qualifications and the appropriate experience. You look for people who understand the challenges and offer unique, effective solutions.  You hire people who are smart. Maybe even people with a certain IQ. When you do so you are trying to make sure your teams are being merged with the best talent available so that all ships will rise with the addition of more smart people.  IQ is important, but on its own it is not enough. You can hire for IQ (Intelligence Quotient), but you need to foster their AQ, or Attention Quotient.

An AQ refers to the ability for a person to be paying full attention.  Its like a measure of how much brain capacity are you applying to a specific topic?  AQ is something that a corporation can foster and provide to it employees to maximize their productivity and while this is a new concept, companies have been thinking along these lines for years.  

A company has many levers to work with when it comes to Attention Quotient.  Some of the things a company has to work with include:

  • Office Environment

    • Is it open concept with specially designated areas for phone calls and quiet thinking?

    • Is it office concept with lots of personal space?

  • Tools

    • Call recording

    • Call transcription or AI note taking

    • Collaboration systems

    • Knowledge Libraries

  • Office Culture

    • Predetermined quest time

    • Meeting “rules” dictating start or end time

    • Vacation policy

    • Mentors, buddies, other programs

    • Executive presence and open-door policy

When you hire someone who is intelligent and has lot of experience, you need to provide them with an environment that fosters positivity and the opportunity for focus.  In a personal world people refer to “Mindfulness” as the ability to focus on the moment. Mindfulness applies at work as well. The ability to focus on the moment, and the present situation, creates space for your mind to be creative.  It creates the chance for you to look others in the eye, focus on conversations, and come up with great solutions. That inter-personal connection creates empathy and that breeds trust. Trust creates a co-dependent work relationship where you are willing to go the extra mile to support your co-worker and work together to solve problems.  This drives success.

You can hire for IQ, but you need to foster AQ.

You need to create an environment that fosters and sustains focus and mindfulness and all the rest of these ideas will fall into place.  Lets work together to develop your Attention Quotient.