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Cisco finds multitasking employees are changing UC&C

A Cisco report shows shifts in work habits as multitasking and the technology that enables it, from mobile devices to UC&C tools, grow more popular.

Employees seeking to multitask on the job are forcing unified communication and collaboration (UC&C) vendors to move faster in integrating services to provide greater efficiency, a Cisco report found.

The Cisco Connected World Technology Report examines how technology is shaping how users work and which technology is changing the working landscape. The study surveyed nearly 3,000 professionals between the ages of 18 and 50 and 827 human resources professionals from 15 countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, China and India.

The report found that workers are increasingly focused on multitasking. More than four in 10 of the respondents consider themselves to be what Cisco dubbed "supertaskers" -- people who can successfully perform more than two tasks at once.

"We've seen for the past couple of years that [those UC&C] users have been demanding new ways of working," said Angie Mistretta, director of marketing for collaboration endpoints technology at Cisco.

Half of the respondents believe that multitasking makes an individual more efficient and 62% of HR professionals believe supertaskers increase their organizations' productivity. Nearly two-thirds of respondents believe that by 2020 supertasking will be a coveted skill for employers.

However, experts disagree on whether the push for multitasking is actually good for organizations. A study from Stanford University found that heavy multitaskers were worse at multitasking than people who perform a single task at a time.

Nevertheless, the contact center and customer engagement space has seen a push for supertasker employees, according to Lisa Durant, research analyst at Nemertes Research.

"If you can find someone who can handle a bunch of channels at once, then you're doing great," Durant said.

Changing habits, changing technology

UC&C vendors have already begun the shift to facilitate the rise of supertaskers.

New technology is giving users different ways of connecting and collaborating outside the confines of a physical office, Mistretta said.

"Users are able to connect and collaborate wherever they are," she said. "The emphasis right now in the collaboration market, on enabling users to work from any device and any location, is a sign of the shift that is happening to accommodate the rise of supertasking."

Durant said vendors are moving away from multiple UC applications and toward a single, streamlined UC platform to facilitate better collaboration. She said 32% of organizations plan to consolidate to a single UC platform by the end of 2015.

"As the technology comes together, the more streamlined the collaboration process will be and the more multitasking can be encouraged because you're not switching between windows," she said.

The growing popularity of mobility and bring your own device are also contributing to the advent of supertaskers who perform their work duties on multiple devices.

The majority of the polled workers use two to three devices in their daily lives, ranging from laptops to smartphones to wearables, while 40% of HR professionals said all employees in their organization are allowed to connect any device to their network to perform their responsibilities.

"[Employees] want mobile, they want to be available all the time and they want to be able to communicate and collaborate across boundaries in a global, always-on way," Mistretta said.

Impact on productivity

But are supertaskers as efficient as they claim?

The Stanford study found that heavy multitaskers had more trouble organizing their thoughts and filtering out irrelevant information, and were slower at switching from one task to another.

"I would have to say that the vast majority [of respondents] are probably overestimating their abilities," Durant said.

In her research, Durant said she has seen organizations encourage multitasking and, on the surface level, appear to be doing more work in less time with fewer people. But once organizations dig deeper, they find that employees make errors -- sometimes costly ones.

"Most people are going to try and handle more things, and what they're really going to be doing is spending 10 hours doing four hours of work instead of spending four hours focusing on their work," Durant said.

However, Mistretta argues it may be too soon to tell whether multitasking is a positive trend for collaboration.

"This newest generation of employees is one of the first that has grown up in an environment that really promotes multitasking and embracing technology to be as productive as possible," Mistretta said. "Our technologies need to enable that kind of collaboration expert, that supertasker, so they can leverage communication and collaboration tools informally and seamlessly to work the way they want to work."

Next Steps

Five UC trends that change the collaboration game

How to prevent your UC&C deployment from failing

Better collaboration tools are essential for team productivity

Dig Deeper on Developing a UC Strategy

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