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Productivity and the Interruption Disruption

In today’s digital age, the real estate that businesses pursue is not property, but attention.  We live in an era of information and distraction, with myriad points of stimuli constantly competing for our attention.  Nowhere does this have more impact than in the workplace where its effect on productivity can be significant.   

Not All Interruptions are Adverse

Interruptions are a normal part of a workday.  Things like answering phone calls, speaking to colleagues, or replying to email all take us away from some task at hand, but they are expected and accounted for. There is a negligible amount of lost time attributed to these factors, and they are often a necessary part of the workday.  If, for example, a discussion with a colleague to get clarity on a subject is necessary to complete a given task, then the interruption is a productive rather than a disruptive one.  

It’s when the interruptions become overly frequent, or if they are ones that can be made superfluous by process improvements, that they become a real disruption to the productivity of staff.  Such was the case with a former Trindent insurance operations client. 

When Interruption Disrupts Productivity

In one past Trindent engagement, a department that processed new business insurance applications had several targets they needed to meet.  The staff in this department were given two concurrent responsibilities – they had to handle new application reviews at the same time as they needed to field phone calls from agents.  

At an earlier point in the company’s history, both the application volumes and call volumes were manageable enough to allow staff to handle them at the same time without tangible disruption to productivity.  However, with the steady growth of the business and an increase in the volume of work, it became clear that the process did not scale well, and staff struggled to achieve daily goals and targets.

Our observation for this client showed that the task of processing applications was being disrupted almost 25% of the time by agent phone calls.  Uninterrupted cases took an average of 9.5 minutes to complete, while interrupted ones averaged an almost 15 minute processing time, a loss of almost 5.5 minutes per case.

This multitasking started to cause significant downstream challenges.  Not only were the agent calls costing lost time in the application process, but a higher error rate and an increase in rework became a factor as staff missed steps in the verification process because of the pause and resume style of their workflow.   As time spent on each application increased and productivity went down, a bottleneck effect was created, and staff fell further behind.

The Disruption Can Be Fixed

The key to fixing interruption disruption to productivity is to identify the problem – in this case, the pause and resume style of workflow caused by competing responsibilities – and to implement process improvements aimed at addressing and mitigating the disruption.   

Click here to read more about Trindent’s approach to streamlining workflows and minimizing productivity disruptions in the financial services sector