How Network Analytics Can Help Us Avoid Digital Fatigue
The working from home (WFH) mandate has inspired a love-hate relationship in many of us. What we lose in our daily commutes, we gain in digital fatigue. Too many ZOOM meetings, too much time online, too many demands are all common complaints. I previously wrote about digital overload, noting activity levels alone do not indicate overload. For example, a high frequency, energetic digital exchange with a few colleagues is quite different than a stream of broad-based notifications demanding your attention.
In this article I adopt a network lens to assess how we are using our digital offices. For example, digital offices provide many places to interact: email, enterprise social networks, teams channels, chat, calls, meetings. Digital office analytics show how much we are using each of these channels:
But how much do these metrics inform us on our personal productivity or potential digital overload? Some of the more advanced offerings from Microsoft, such as its “productivity score” and Workplace Analytics take us closer to assessing overload in terms of how our time is being consumed.
But how do we interpret the relative value of a Yammer interaction versus a Teams channel interaction versus a chat message versus a call versus a meeting versus an email? What does a productive workflow that crosses these interaction channels look like? To visualize this we need to not only see activity levels for each channel, but also how work actually flows between these places.
Digging Into Digital Office Workflows
The following schematic looks to trace work (knowledge) flows between our interaction places:
This conceptual map looks to capture at least some of the complexity of what we might consider a typical day at the virtual office. Workplace designers might like to trace a flow, say, from a creative idea emerging from a community discussion, being detailed in a team space, endorsed in a formal stakeholder meeting and implemented through detailed team-level chats and calls. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) like SAP and Workday support formal workflows, but much of what we work on doesn’t always follow a neat process path. It’s much messier. We jump between calls, chat, meetings, discussion threads and if we are brutally honest, much of what we do can lead nowhere, hence the knowledge lost box!
So how can we start to add some direction to our digital work and how can analytics help? We could look to digital artifacts like workflow management systems, documents produced and shared word documents, PowerPoint decks, websites and similar. We call this information flow tracking and it does provide some sense of a tangible workflow. However, many of us have roles centered on how we interact, share and exchange tacit knowledge, where there is simply a vacuum.
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How Network Analytics Can Help You Harness Your Workday
Short of tracking brainwaves, it is next to impossible to trace how tacit knowledge is exchanged. What we can do is identify the paths through which tacit knowledge is most likely to flow. If, for example, we identify that two staff members engage in frequent and reciprocated interactions across multiple places (e.g., community, team discussions, chat, meeting, calls, etc.), we can be confident a trustful relationship exists and that tacit knowledge sharing is taking place.
This Team Network map shows how the team members are connected though their online interactions. Some of the lines are red, meaning the interactions are reciprocal. Some of the lines are thicker than others, meaning the interactions between these two members are more frequent. Members connected by thick red lines are seen to be collaborating more intensely, and therefore are likely sharing more knowledge, insights and perspectives. Knowledge flows more easily along the thick red paths.
Consider your own trust network. How many of your work colleagues do you feel completely safe to openly share with? If you were to draw your own personal network map, it may similarly show a select group of contacts you connect with through thick red pathways.
While the above map shows your team’s social network map, a similar network map could be drawn reflecting your interactions in meetings, calls, chat groups and email, all sites where interactions and, therefore, transmissions can occur:
Observing how the members of your "trust" network are distributed (or not) across your different interaction places can tell you a lot about your personal productivity. For example:
- Your external network, as surfaced through your email and meetings networks, might indicate the degree to which you are brokering external knowledge into the organization.
- Correspondence between your Meetings, Teams and Chat networks might reflect a preference for action and decision making.
- A correspondence between your Email, Meetings and Community networks could reflect a preference for open and diverse interactions and an innovation focus.
- Correspondence between your Chat and Calls networks might flag a preference for complex problem solving and deep knowledge sharing.
- A disconnect between your meetings network and your Teams, Chat and Calls network might suggest you are not getting value from the meetings that you are attending.
- Interaction places devoid of others from your trust network may create anxiety and feelings of isolation.
- In contrast, if your interaction places are filled with the same people, group think could ensue, leading to at times a false sense of high productivity.
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Some Practical Steps you can Take
At SWOOP we are working to automate the insights that can be derived through tracing personal network overlaps between the different office interaction places. With a small amount of effort though, you can manually assess how productive your use of the digital office might be:
Use Case Scenario
Being a Focused Team Member
Review you team meetings, discussions, chat and call activities over the past month. Create a list of who you interacted with for each interaction place.
We would expect your network should overlap considerably across the interaction places, if team cohesion is critical.
Addressing Digital Overload
Review your meetings, chat and calls activity over the past month. Create a list of who you interacted with for each interaction place.
We anticipate the larger your network of meetings/chat/call partners, the higher the potential for digital overload stress.
Introducing a new initiative
Review your Community, Meetings and Team discussion activities over the past month. Create a list pf who you interacted with in each interaction place.
Your community network helps validate the potential value of a new initiative. Your Meetings network should include members with the authority to progress the initiative. Your Teaming network should have members with an implementation focus. Do your respective networks have the right people to help progress your initiative?
Digital office analytics is currently limited to identifying the usage levels of each interaction place, with the implied assumption that more is better. The extended working from home experience suggests otherwise.
By reflecting on how your personal networks pervade your interaction places, you can start to achieve smarter ways to leverage your digital office, while avoiding the risk of digital fatigue.
About the Author
Laurence Lock Lee is the co-founder and chief scientist at Swoop Analytics, a firm specializing in online social networking analytics. He previously held senior positions in research, management and technology consulting at BHP Billiton, Computer Sciences Corporation and Optimice.