At Jive there are quite a few "Battlestar Galactica" fans, but I had not watched the show before this weekend. When my wife received the season one DVD set over the holidays, it was a chance to find out what all the buzz was about. The show is awesome so far, but one scene in particular caught my attention. During the first episode the commander of the ship rehearses a speech as he wanders the corridors. He keeps repeating the first couple of sentences of his monologue, but is consistently interrupted before getting any further. As he settles into giving his speech it becomes clear that all of those interruptions distracted him from his plans and he ends up giving a completely different speech. In our own daily work lives, interruptions can be very costly. CNET recently reported on research by Basex that found that interruptions could be costing U.S. businesses up to $588 billion per year.
What does this have to do with real-time collaboration? Instantaneous human interaction, whether in person or through a medium such as IM, has the potential for interruptions which lower productivity. At the same time, some interruptions are critical to collaboration and creativity. Coming up with tactics for managing these interruptions in a way that balances the good and and bad aspects can greatly improve all of our effectiveness. Matt provided some tips last year, including some of the ideas below.
!http://www.igniterealtime.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2007/01/lightred.png!One way to manage interruptions is through the active management of one's presence. At Jive, if you set your presence to "Do Not Disturb", most people will avoid messaging you unless it is critical. When you really need focused time, "Do Not Disturb" can be invaluable. However, there are still in-person interruptions that can occur since your presence cannot be seen as people walk up to your desk. We recognized this problem internally and have added USB LED signal lights to some workstations (the lights are expensive). A Sparkplug then changes the color of the light based on the user's presence. For example, when the presence is set to "Do Not Disturb" the light automatically changes to red as a signal to others. This system works well for people who actively manage their presence, but not for those of us who routinely forget to change our presence.
!http://www.igniterealtime.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2007/01/lights.png!Automat ic presence information synchronization is a great way to help solve the pain of manually changing presence. Wildfire and Spark can be integrated with Asterisk so that when someone is on the phone, their presence is automatically updated to "On the phone" -- this works great with the presence lights. A future source of presence information will be Outlook calendars. Automatically changing presence to "In a meeting" will help others see whether you're available and save them time tracking you down. The (somewhat blurry) picture at right shows two presence lights in action -- the one in the foreground is green, while the one in the distance is red. Next week I'll package up the Spark plugin that powers the lights and release it in the forums for anyone that's interested.
Achieving greater productivity through the reduction of interruptions is beneficial for all of us. We can experience less frustration and be more effective without giving anything up. All it takes is more consistent use of presence to indicate availability -- that requires both accurate (and automatic) presence information as well as a culture of respect for presence status so that "Do Not Disturb" has teeth. Let's work together to shave a few billion dollars off of the waste that unnecessary interruptions generate.