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6 ways to cut through noise at work
Illustration by Justin Alm

3 min read

6 ways to cut through noise at work

Six simple ways to cut down on information clutter, or noise, at work.

Dealing with information clutter, or noise, is a big problem for most employees. At work, most of us are head-down and hate distractions. And for good reason, too. Research by the Department of Informatics at the University of California, Irvine shows that it takes over 23 minutes to get back on a work task after being interrupted by noise. Here are six simple tips to help cut through noise in your organization.

1. Choose a work-relevant tool

Many workplace platforms mimic Facebook, Twitter, or personal chat tools. These are all optimized for personal purposes – they intentionally create noise to maximize their entertainment value. As such, they aren’t well matched to the workplace environment. It’s important to choose communication tools that are designed specifically to be used in the workplace.

2. Don’t rely on streams for discovery

Streams (long strings of comments from various people that have opted into an ad-hoc topical group) can create an effective way to share what’s happening across an organization. However, they can quickly become out of hand and noisy.

Streams work best in the moment, as a way to keep up with the “pulse” and happenings of your company. Using them for more than that is a bad strategy.

Chat and Twitter-like tools use streams exclusively. You’re unable to discover information and connections unless someone has chatted about it and attached it into a stream. Relying on streams for information discovery is a poor practice. Employees don’t want to have to monitor and hunt through chat streams. They want zero distractions until they need something. But when they do need help, they must find what they need quickly and reliably, above the noise.

3. Keep things fresh and organized

If you want to find key information quickly, it needs to be organized. People should quickly know the go-to place for various types of information. Simply reorganizing your company-wide file share one more time, isn’t enough. You need to get your key information into a reference library that’s easy for all employees, not just your power users, to navigate.

Things that have a “golden copy” character (policies, guidelines, manuals, training materials, sales materials, etc.) need to be in a specific place where they won’t be confused with archived copies and work in progress. This solves the “I need the official budget but there are three files named ‘budget final’ ” problem.

Keeping this reference library current and organized is critical. Each subject needs its own subject matter expert to own the content and look after its ongoing curation.

4. Target your communications

To really minimize noise, information needs to be properly targeted. For example, if you’re not in the building with the pending power outage, you shouldn’t hear about it.

Information needs to be targeted at actual workplace groups (building, org unit, division, team) or employee type (such as “engineers”) that it’s relevant to. For example, a technical safety notice should only go to the engineers in Mexico that are affected by it, thereby not confusing American engineers with a standard that doesn't apply to them.

Social and chat tools rely on groups that are created ad hoc, or by people opting in (following). When you go to roll out the new pricing schedule to everyone in Sales, you might find four groups called ‘Sales,’ none of which was ever accurate, and none of which have been maintained since their creation. So you end up emailing the pricing schedule to everyone in Sales instead. This adds noise on top of noise.

Information and conversations need to be targeted, filtered, and restricted based on the dynamic membership of actual workplace teams and locations. This reduces noise and goes a long way to solve the clutter problem.

Stream-based tools are starting to manage noise by introducing “smart” filters. While this can significantly reduce noise, it also inadvertently filters some things you need to be aware of.

5. Enable comprehensive search

Search is an effective way to navigate too much information. It becomes particularly powerful when it can find people, teams, expertise, chat posts, and file content all at the same time. With comprehensive search in place, you can search for the European benefits package to share with a prospective employee, and discover that there’s a group working to implement a major improvement to it.

6. Avoid email internally

Email is an essential business tool, particularly for interacting with customers and vendors. But it’s seldom the right choice for internal conversations – nothing creates confusing noise faster than a busy email chain. A good intranet for sharing news and a good chat tool for facilitating team conversations, are much more effective.

Creating a noise-free intranet platform

It was our early understanding of the problems of noise with social platforms that led to Jostle’s unique approach that includes effective targeting, comprehensive search, and curated LIBRARY. Jostle’s new kind of social intranet platform lets employees get their job done, while keeping noise at bay.

Want to reduce workplace noise?

Check out how Jostle can help your organization

Andrea Nazarian

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