By Maximilian Clarke

Britons are drowning in droplets rather than floods of data at work, a study suggests, and are struggling to navigate, organise and digest this collectively, damaging effects on business.

The study, conducted for Mindjet by One Poll, highlights that whilst British workers might receive small amounts of data, when it comes from multiple sources it quickly becomes hard to manage, negatively impacting the business bottom line and making workers unhappy.

The average amount of emails received each day might not be as high as we think at 36, but the survey has shown a third of these still go unread. Further results from the survey showed that we attend one meeting, make five telephone or conference calls and despite social media hype, just 20 per cent of us spend any time on social networking sites during a typical day at the office. These results echo our email consumption: data even by the droplet still maintains a negative human impact, and is cited as a cause of workplace unhappiness, with two thirds of office workers saying that the amount of data they are receiving negatively affects their job.

The research, which surveyed 2,000 UK office workers, has found that just a small amount of data can leave us feeling overwhelmed because we are not equipped to manage it. It is the reason why more than one in ten (14%) are enjoying their job less and what’s more, it is having a knock on impact for businesses. The average office worker spends over 21 minutes a day, the equivalent of over two working weeks per year, searching for information they’ve seen but can’t find — that’s costing UK business £1,248.51[[3] Based on working 234 days a year with an average working day of 7.5 hours and an average salary of £25,900, source: Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (December 2010), HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and Pay As You Earn (PAYE) records.3] a year for every employee, based on the average wage.

Chris Harman, Regional Vice President for Northern Europe, Middle East and Africa at Mindjet, which focuses on improving how people work together, comments: “This research has shown it doesn’t take much to feel like we’re drowning in data at work. It is costing businesses and affecting employee motivation, which is why companies have to encourage new ways of working and help their employees better manage data. We’re helping them to do this by providing collaborative work management solutions that focus on visualising data to dramatically improve how people can retain information more effectively, work better together, accomplish goals more successfully and be more productive.”

Neurobiologist Mo Costandi explains why we’re struggling: “We receive information from a huge variety of different sources, sometimes simultaneously, but the brain is not good at multitasking. When there are emails, documents, meetings, tweets and telephone calls to deal with it can be very hard to assimilate all this information in a meaningful way. Visualising information could help us to see the bigger picture and understand connections between pieces of information, but the way we work doesn’t usually allow for this and that’s why we can feel overloaded and struggle to make sense of what we can process. We’re only going to receive more information from more sources in the future so we have to get better at managing it — this is where technology can help, if used in the right way.”

“The way we have to work today involves assimilating information from many sources and the fact we’re struggling to do this is a very real business issue — one that will only increase as we enter the big data era," continued Harman. "We can’t afford to be held back by the volume of information when the climate is so tough. Something as simple as searching for information can have a big effect at a time when businesses are looking to free up employees time to be more innovative and productive in order to stimulate the growth most are looking for in 2012.”

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