Creating a neuroergonomic workplace

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When we think of ergonomics at work, we typically think of furniture – chairs that form to our bodies, desks or computer monitors that swivel with our every move and customisable keyboards. What is often left out of this conversation, however, is every worker’s most important tool: their brain.

Many companies working through their digital workplace transformation are implementing the latest and greatest productivity solutions but aren’t focused on the toll of all of these competing information sources on their workforce’s minds. In order to set our workers up for success, we need to stop giving them tools that actually work against them, and start arming them with ergonomic tech that works the way the human brain does.

When workers are forced to adapt to the limitations of technology, the friction increases the amount of cognitive processing required to digest all of the information they need to perform their job. This is what makes workers feel overwhelmed, forget tasks, miss opportunities and make mistakes. Fortunately, there’s a solution to this mess, and it starts with implementing ergonomic strategies to help workers function at their highest level.

Ergonomic approach  

To combat productivity woes and help workers quickly and easily access the information they need when they need it, businesses need to instil an ergonomic approach to technology. This means tailoring technology solutions to how humans work and interact. When technology is organised in a manner that aligns with how people naturally think, cognitive friction can be reduced or even eliminated. 

The cloud is the key to improving digital workflows, yet currently, cloud platforms are data silos: information is disconnected. This means knowledge workers need to remember where information is located - “Was that file saved in Dropbox or in Office 365?”– rather than focusing on their tasks, slowing completion. Cloud platforms need to become more open so enterprises can empower people to consume information by topic rather than by application. An open cloud system paired with AI-enhanced capabilities will make it simple to find information around a given topic. This environment will create a surge in productivity because people will be able to search for and quickly access information across clouds based on keywords, such as services, projects, products and other specific subjects - the way the brain works.

Here are three ways to get started: 

Eliminate cognitive burden 

In today’s business cloud reality, employees are forced to change the way they work in order to accommodate technology. Not only is this machine-first, people-second approach to workplace technology disruptive and cumbersome for employees, but it goes against the way the human brain naturally functions. What’s more, it’s likely one of the larger contributing factors for the decline of U.S. worker productivity last year and the ongoing stagnation this year. Not convinced? Consider this: according to research from Netskope, average enterprise workers use more than 900 apps to get work done. While it may not seem like a big deal, recent estimates show that you can lose up to 40 per cent of your productivity by task-switching. The constant toggling between endless disparate apps has become commonplace at work, and it’s a productivity assassin.

To minimise this, we need to put people back at the centre of technology. This is where the idea of Topic Computing comes in, or breaking down data siloes from business app by grouping information the way the human brain works - by topics - thereby surfacing what’s most important to knowledge workers. By doing this, workers can quickly access information across clouds based on keywords, allowing them to focus on what really matters.

Make the right thing to do the easy thing to do

Because it’s so easy to sign up for cloud services today, sensitive business information is spread across numerous apps – and it’s getting increasingly harder to keep track of. This is a huge information governance problem, since failing to keep proper records can result in huge legal and financial implications. For example, Scottrade was fined $2.6 million in 2015 because it could not produce important emails for an audit. Multinational bank, Barclays faced a $3.75 million lawsuit in 2013 over its alleged decade-long failure to properly keep electronic records, emails and instant messages. The list of companies that fail to track critical information is larger than you’d think. 

The solution? Make the right thing to do the easy thing to do. By automatically unifying disconnected information from multiple cloud services, organisations can rest assured that their workers are indexing all emails and documents accurately, and can easily retrieve them when they need to. This eliminates an extra step and room for error, making it effortless to comply with document retention policies so they can get back to their clients and projects.

Design the Westgate West way

Great ideas often come from serendipitous encounters and these don’t tend to happen when working remotely. For example, we’re much more likely to discuss other topics and spark ideas when we’re talking face to face, rather than asking specific questions over email. 

Bringing employees back to the office à la IBM is a good first step, but we can make the office even more neuroergonomic by the physical design of it. In fact, many businesses are adopting ‘Westgate West’ design – a social experiment that found friendships are likely to develop on the basis of brief and passive contacts made going to and from home or walking about the neighbourhood – into their office culture. In fact, Pixar redesigned its office to bring the company’s formerly separated computer scientists, animators and executives into the same building to encourages creative problem solving and idea-sharing. 

Where we’re going

The app-economy has focused on apps, rather than focusing on people. The next generation of cloud computing needs to focus on human beings, delivering information the way the human brain works. We think in term of “topics” not in term of “apps.” To increase workplace productivity, cloud services vendors need to stop competing for attention, but rather promote concentration, reducing distractions so we can concentrate, better listen to each other and better collaborate.

As knowledge workers’ attention are businesses’ most valuable asset, IT leaders need to put the human at the centre of their digital strategy, creating this neuroergonomic workplace to forge a culture of collaboration and concentration.

Yaacov Cohen is the co-founder & CEO of harmon.ie
Image Credit: Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock