Communication overload at work

As a web developer I’m constantly pushing new communications out to people around the world. These communications come in many different forms. Just the other day I added one such new form of communication to every event at events.wayne.edu, the Facebook like button.

I really had my doubts that this like button would be useful on our events calendar. Those doubts didn’t last long. While implementing the like button I was testing it by liking random events. After getting a dozen or so questions from friends (and family) asking why I liked a Church of Scientology event (web developers don’t read content) I quickly realized that I was communicating with a whole bunch of people without even realizing it. This proved to me that the like button really does spark conversations.

Now, being that I set up tools to push communications out to thousands (or more?) people I find myself wondering where the threshold is for communication overload. At work, we monitor various external communication sources. Now this is obviously not the primary focus of my job, but being that I work within the marketing department and communication plays such a key role in what we do, I find things like twitter messages and Facebook wall posts creeping into my field of view. Some of them are mission critical, some are semi important, but it seems most are little more than a distraction.

For internal communication our team uses a combination of E-mail, Instant message (both Google Talk and an internal Jabber server), a 1 hour, *cough* 3 hour, standing weekly status meeting, and random conversations throughout the week. We were also using a Jabber conference bot that broadcast messages team wide, but we’ve recently replaced that with campfire. My work e-mail account also receives a few dozen campus wide communications each week, of which maybe 15% pertain to me. I also use my e-mail to communicate directly with clients. I’d say that most days I spend 33-50% of my time in the office communicating.

Today our department lead was tinkering around with the campfire and twitter APIs so he could get tweets to show up in our campfire group chat. I have the chat set up to alert me audibly and via growl when new messages pop up. This is a primary source of communication for our group, so to stay in the loop I need to know when people are saying stuff. With the addition of tweets to this feed, I think I’ll pass the 50% mark and the majority of my time will now be spent on communication. The number of potential distractions is so great, that getting work (coding) done at this point is becoming ever more challenging.

As developers, should we be bombarded by communications constantly? Should the work related distractions be so numerous that we find it difficult to focus on a project for more than 5 minutes at a time? Is reading social streams now a requirement for good programming?

While writing this blog post (it took 10 minutes) I read 2 dozen tweets, was messaged 2 times on Google Talk, had 2 new e-mails come in, and was messaged twice in our campfire room. While writing that sentence, I was messages 2 more times, and 5 more tweets showed up.

Will 75% of my time be spent communicating next month? 90% the month after? When is it too much?