Flowlight: Giving The Busy Signal

The Wall Street Journal: “Interruptions are the bane of workers in open-plan offices, with some resorting to headphones, busy lights and other paraphernalia to ward off chatty co-workers … Academic researchers and collaborators at ABB have developed an automated solution: a light that turns red, green or yellow to indicate when interruptions are OK and when they aren’t. The team says that the system, known as FlowLight, reduced interruptions by 46% for 36 users who reliably logged such intrusions.”

“To avoid making red lights into status symbols, they were at first limited to going on for 18% of the workday … Not all interruptions are bad. Ill-timed or trivial ones tend to hurt productivity, but many interruptions lead to valuable discussions that can benefit a firm … So the idea isn’t to do away with them but to channel them between periods of intense concentration.”

“The researchers were also surprised by the extent to which FlowLight became a useful feedback system to encourage concentration by professionals whose jobs offer considerable opportunities for distraction. One user told the researchers, ‘If I see the red light, I sense I am in the flow, and I keep working’.”


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