Information Overload Plagues Employees. Is the Modern Workplace to Blame?

By Larry English, Andersen Alumnus and currently CEO of Centric Consulting.

We all know the feeling. You’ve got a long list of work to complete, yet a constant stream of emails, chats, task notifications, and meetings prevents you from getting anything done. The information overload not only impacts your ability to cross things off your list, but it’s also a serious mental drain.

The 2023 Microsoft Work Trend Index found information overload a common problem among modern workers. Sixty-eight percent of survey participants said they lack uninterrupted focus time throughout the day, and sixty-two percent say searching for information eats up valuable time every day.

And it’s not only individual workers who suffer. Information overload is a huge negative for organizations, too, leading to a degraded culture, as well as problems recruiting and retaining top talent. “We spend more and more of our days separating the signal from the noise–at the expense of creativity,” states the Microsoft report. “And the tax on individual productivity is compounding, undermining organizational productivity and global GDP.”

Part one of this series on information overwhelm explores the aspects of the modern workplace that contribute to information overwhelm. Part two will provide a roadmap for reducing information overload.

How does the modern workplace contribute to information overload? Let’s dive in:

1. Remote Work/Hybrid Work

My company, Centric Consulting, has been remote-first for over two decades. Needless to say, I’m a big proponent of remote work and all the benefits it offers individual employees and organizations alike. That said, the COVID-19 pandemic caused many organizations to go remote by default rather than design, setting organizations up for failure when it comes to information overload.

“Companies wanted to keep their leaders and team members engaged, so many of these companies’ communications increased significantly,” says Michael McNett, co-lead of Centric’s Modern Workplace practice. “The impact was a large volume of communications becoming the standard, and as we’ve evolved from the pandemic, similar situations are happening as companies figure out how to work with a hybrid workforce, with some people working in-person while others work remotely.”

Now, all companies — in office or not — use remote or hybrid technologies. As a result, employees are always “on.”

The solution: Have a strategy behind your remote or hybrid workplace processes. Simply letting people work remotely some or all of the time and burying them in inefficient communications is a recipe for disaster. And if your company has returned to the office, you still need to consider how you’re using remote communication tools.

2. New Technology

Modern workplace tools and automated processes promise increased efficiency and collaboration. But, many organizations fail to implement these tools and processes correctly, leading to information overload.

“Many times, companies implement these changes without adhering to best practices to reduce information overload,” McNett explains. “In the early days of the pandemic, companies turned on applications such as Microsoft Teams without adequate training and communications. The end users were suddenly inundated with a completely new and different communications path, which they didn’t know how to manage and configure to best meet their personal preferences.”

To compound the problem, companies often don’t establish guidelines for when to use what mode of communication — email versus meeting versus phone call versus chat — causing organization-wide frustration, missed communications, and chronic duplicate communications.

The solution: Put an adoption and change management program in place to cover key areas such as communications, training, success measurement, and resistance management.

3. Too Much New Technology

After adding new technology to their stack, some companies still have employees continuing to use traditional communication and collaboration systems. Not only have they not communicated about when to use what technology, but they’re also reluctant to get rid of old or outdated systems and merely layer new technology on top. This is commonly known as “shadow IT,” or adding new technology without going through proper IT governance and validation processes, which causes employee confusion and frustration in addition to information overload.

For instance, say a CEO loves Zoom, but the company has recently integrated Microsoft 365. So now the company uses Zoom for external calls and Teams for internal meetings. In addition, they’ve kept Slack because the IT team prefers Slack, and they don’t want to force anyone into using a tool they don’t love. “So now they have all these duplicate systems,” McNett says. “If the company isn’t forced into consolidating these applications to increase ROI and decrease outgoing costs, they’re just going to continue contributing to information overload.”

The solution: Do the hard work of eliminating, reducing and consolidating applications.

Information Overload Will Only Get Worse

As technology continues to evolve and we have more ways to communicate more efficiently, information overload will only become a more serious problem. Leaders must address it now.

“It’s only getting worse, but it’s forcing leadership to prioritize finding solutions,” says Karina Myers, co-lead of Centric’s Modern Workplace practice. “Conversations have switched from ‘we want to have the tools available’ to ‘how do we make those tools work.’ Companies are realizing they’re going to lose talent or not be able to attract new talent.”

Bottom line: Modernizing the employee experience — the right way — is the most direct path to attracting and retaining highly engaged talent. Centric Consulting’s team of Modern Workplace experts can help. Contact us to learn more and get started.

Centric Consulting is an international management consulting firm with unmatched in-house expertise in business transformation, hybrid workplace strategy, technology implementation and adoption. Founded in 1999 with a remote workforce, Centric has established a reputation for solving its clients’ toughest problems, delivering tailored solutions, and bringing deeply experienced consultants centered on what’s best for your business.