Traffic light for your desk stops interruptions at work


Interruptions in the workplace are estimated to cost the US economy some $588 billion a year, but a software engineer believes to have a solution that will cut the number of disruptions in half.

Called FlowLight, the desk-mounted traffic light is capable of measuring the person’s productivity and uses different colors to indicate four states: available as green, busy as red, do not disturb as pulsating red and away as yellow.

The technology uses the user’s mouse and keyboard interactions to see if they are working hard or hardly working – it also logs the person’s work calendar to stop their co-workers from intruding during meetings.

FlowLight is desk-mounted traffic light is capable of measuring the person's productivity and uses different colors to indicate four states: Available as green, busy as red, do not disturb as pulsating red and away as yellow

FlowLight is desk-mounted traffic light is capable of measuring the person's productivity and uses different colors to indicate four states: Available as green, busy as red, do not disturb as pulsating red and away as yellow

FlowLight is desk-mounted traffic light is capable of measuring the person’s productivity and uses different colors to indicate four states: Available as green, busy as red, do not disturb as pulsating red and away as yellow

FLOWLIGHT FEATURES 

FlowLight is an LED light mounted onto the cubicle wall or outside an office.

It is is capable of measuring the person’s productivity and uses different colors to indicate four states: Available as green, Busy as red, Do Not Disturb as pulsating red, and Away as yellow

The system uses three components to decide what color the traffic light should be.

There is a tracker that gathers data about how much the person uses the mouse and keyboard. 

And it also logs calendar events to determine meetings and the user’s Skype status.

There is also a status analyzer that uses what has been logged by the tracker to predict when the person is usually available or unavailable – this component harnesses its power from specific algorithms to form the calculations.

FlowLight is also equipped with a status manager to manage the user’s current status, propagating it to the LED light and other applications, in particular instant messaging clients. 

FlowLight was conceived by David Shepard, lead software engineering researcher for ABB, who collaborated with the University of Zurich in Switzerland to turn the idea into a working device.

‘We developed the FlowLight approach, an approach to reduce the cost of in-person interruptions by combining a physical interruptibility indicator in the form of a traffic light like LED (light emitting diode) with an automatic interruptibility measurement based on a user’s computer interaction,’ the team shared in the study.

‘Over the course of the study, we collected a rich set of quantitative and qualitative data, including self-reported interruption logs of 36 participants, survey responses of 183 participants that used the FlowLight for at least 4 weeks, and in-depth interviews of 23 participants.’

The LED light is mounted onto the person’s cubicle wall or outside of their office.

And the system uses three components to decide what color the traffic light should be.

There is a tracker that gathers data about how much the person uses the mouse and keyboard.

This part of the system monitors mouse clicks, movements as pixels moved, scrolling as pixels scrolled and keystrokes.

And it also logs calendar events to determine meetings and the user’s Skype status.

There is also a status analyzer that uses what has been logged by the tracker to predict when the person is usually available or unavailable – this component harnesses its power from specific algorithms to form the calculations.

Finally, FlowLight is equipped with a status manager to manage the user’s current status, propagating it to the LED light and other applications, in particular instant messaging clients.

The LED light is mounted onto the person's cubicle wall or outside of their office. And the system uses three components to decide what color the traffic light should be - a tracker, status analyzer and status manager

The LED light is mounted onto the person's cubicle wall or outside of their office. And the system uses three components to decide what color the traffic light should be - a tracker, status analyzer and status manager

Following an analysis of the data, the team discovered that those who used the device experienced 46 percent less interruptions

Following an analysis of the data, the team discovered that those who used the device experienced 46 percent less interruptions

The LED light is mounted onto the person’s cubicle wall or outside of their office. And the system uses three components to decide what color the traffic light should be – a tracker, status analyzer and status manager

The team noted that ‘the application was implemented to be compatible with the Windows operating system, Skype for Business, an IM and video-conferencing system, and Office 365, a software suite that provides email and calendaring services, amongst others’.

To put FlowLight to the test, the team conducted a study with 449 workers and installed the traffic light in over 15 locations in 12 countries.

Following an analysis of the data, the team discovered that those who used the device experienced 46 percent less interruptions.

Most participants, 82.6 percent of the 23 interview participants stated their intention to keep using the FlowLight even after the pilot period.

INTERRUPTIONS CAN WIPE YOU SHORT-TERM MEMORY 

A study has found that if you are bothered for 60 seconds while trying to focus on something then you will have to start afresh because you can’t recall what you were doing.

The researchers said that their findings should be a warning to anyone with a smartphone as users check the devices around 125 times a day.

George Mason University researchers asked test participants to outline an answer to an exam and then write their response under three conditions.

Firstly they had to write uninterrupted, secondly they were disrupted three times whilst writing the outline and thirdly they were interrupted three times whilst writing the answer.

During each of the one-minute interruptions, the test subjects had to do maths problems.

The findings showed that the breaks caused 95 per cent of people taking part to write poorer quality answers.

They also wrote less – for those planning to write a paragraph with five points, they only managed to include three even if they did not realize. 

‘It brings more awareness to what people are doing. Sometimes people take it for granted that people are always interruptible,’ one of the participants said after using the FlowLight.

‘But there is actually a cost or a penalty when you interrupt someone.’

‘So, I think just the concept is good because it reminds people that there is sometimes a good time and a bad time to interrupt people. So, I think just from an awareness campaign, it’s valuable as well.’ 



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