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Stupid bloody system

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"Stupid bloody system!" That is something that a lot of user have muttered at work; over computer systems, databases, intranets that are hard to navigate and impossible to comprehend - but that you are obliged to use, nevertheless.

Although every new computer system is designed to save time and make work easier, we just seem to get more and more stressed. Why?

Indeed, stress in the workplace has been soaring since the mid-nineties, and has now replaced back pain as the primary cause of absenteeism.

In this presentation, I show how bad computer systems have created eight concurrent kinds of work-related stress - mostly related to an unnecessary cognitive load. The biggest strain from computer work is no longer on your elbow or eyes; it is on your brain.

To a great extent, this has been overlooked by the traditional field of occupational health and safety. And ven the people affected tend to blame not the systems, but themselves: "I'm too old. I guess I'm stupid."

This presentation was presented at the Work with Computing Systems conference in Stockholm 2007.

Veröffentlicht in: Technologie
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Stupid bloody system

  1. Jonas Söderström inUse AB ” Stupid bloody system!” Cognitive stress from today’s fragmented digital work environment – the users’ view
  2. Consequences of new computer systems introduced: <ul><li>Swedish National Passport Authority: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“ Break-down chamber” for workers </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Swedish Television </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“ People were crying themselves to sleep” </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Regional Health Service, Uppsala, Sweden </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“ Dangerous to nurse’s health” </li></ul></ul>
  3. It’s not always a total catastrophe, but …
  4. How bad? <ul><li>42 percent of workers say IT-related problems make them angry, stressed and frustrated. </li></ul><ul><li>Women up to age 29: 60 percent have adverse reactions from trouble with IT. </li></ul><ul><li>73 percent lose up to two work hours a day. </li></ul><ul><li>SIFO/Koneo mars 2006 </li></ul>
  5. In UK, too: <ul><li>Workers spent 10 per cent of their time battling against computer programmes or getting to grips with phones, handheld devices and other gadgets. </li></ul><ul><li>Thirty-seven per cent say they are frustrated by not being able to handle the technology. </li></ul><ul><li>32 per cent of workers say they have failed to receive training from their company to teach them to use the technology in the office. </li></ul><ul><li>(City & Guild, 2006) </li></ul>
  6. Stress is the main problem <ul><li>” Stress is the big problem facing employers up and down the country as rates of sick leave soar. (...) Work-related stress has reached record levels, with 13.4 million lost days a year blamed on the pressures of office life. </li></ul><ul><li>Stress has replaced backache as the biggest cause of absenteeism, and the financial burden is enormous. Cases of stress, depression and anxiety are said to have doubled in the past seven years , with one in five employees reporting that they feel stressed. </li></ul><ul><li>Yet no one can come up with a proper definition of what it is .” </li></ul><ul><li>(Health and Safety Executive, in Guardian, Oct 12 2003) </li></ul>
  7. What has happened? Eight concurrent reasons why the users are becoming frustrated and stressed-out
  8. 1: Explosion of systems used <ul><li>The sheer number of applications (systems, sites) we must use in the workplace has exploded </li></ul><ul><ul><li>General store: 20-25 different systems to manage store </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Office: 30-50 </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Many “small” systems introduced by different stakeholders in the organization </li></ul><ul><ul><li>No idea of the total load on the individual </li></ul></ul>
  9. Small and irritating differences <ul><li>Grocery store: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Prize as ”54.50” and ”54:50” </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Service company: two systems used in parallel in same workstation </li></ul><ul><ul><li>System 1: Ctrl-O is “Execute” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>System 2: Ctrl-O is “Shut down and close” </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Cognitive load: “How did this system work?” </li></ul>
  10. Built-in differences <ul><li>Created by different generations of consultants/developers </li></ul><ul><li>Built on succeeding generations of technological platforms </li></ul><ul><li>Web based design: lack of standards </li></ul>
  11. Many systems are used infrequently… <ul><li>… but some system is used each day, week, month. </li></ul><ul><li>Difficulties in learning! </li></ul>
  12. 2: Chores – not “real” work <ul><li>Many new tasks, not related to what is perceived as “my real work” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Cuts in administration </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Ever-growing demand for documentation and statistics </li></ul></ul><ul><li>The (supposed) benefits of these chores are often not clear to the individual worker </li></ul>
  13. 3: Inflexibility <ul><li>Technical view of work as process (not interaction between humans) </li></ul><ul><li>Systems does not admit improvisation, flexible solutions </li></ul><ul><li>Service sector: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Pressure on workers from two sides: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Poorly designed systems </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Irate customers </li></ul></ul></ul>
  14. Inflexibility means control <ul><li>… over how tasks can /should be done </li></ul><ul><li>Very limited space for worker’s own initiatives </li></ul><ul><li>Very hard to adapt the tool to fit yourself </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Improvement suggestions often subject to very slow “change request”-systems </li></ul></ul><ul><li>More power to middle management, less to workers </li></ul>
  15. 4: Poor interfaces and bad interaction design <ul><li>Many systems still shockingly bad </li></ul><ul><li>Interaction design and interface design not well understood </li></ul><ul><li>Excuses: “It’s only a small system” … </li></ul><ul><li>… yet another one added to the many! </li></ul><ul><li>“ Integrated” or “standard” systems not ideal for any special given task </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“ Swiss army knife-syndrome” </li></ul></ul>
  16. Examples: Complicated structure
  17. Too much information
  18. 5: Ever increasing speed <ul><li>Fast changing business goals </li></ul><ul><li>Re-organizations </li></ul><ul><li>New technological platforms </li></ul><ul><li>Individuals report: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“… less time to learn” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>“… new systems introduced before we learned the previous one” </li></ul></ul>
  19. 6: The burden of vigilance <ul><li>New systems reduce some tasks … </li></ul><ul><li>… but also add new: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Virus protection updates </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>System updates </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Identification, authorization </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Administration of access levels </li></ul></ul><ul><li>These are seldom mentioned to users in advance </li></ul><ul><li>Significantly reduces promises of time saved </li></ul><ul><li>Yet another “ not my real work ”-chore </li></ul>
  20. 7: Systematic neglect of training <ul><li>Often too early on unfinished systems </li></ul><ul><li>Again: “It’s just a small system” </li></ul><ul><li>Unrealistic expectations for “user-friendly” “intuitive” systems </li></ul><ul><li>Web based systems still perceived as inherently “easy” </li></ul><ul><li>“ Curse of knowledge” of project managers etc: </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Underestimates time for learning </li></ul></ul></ul>
  21. 8: Blame the user <ul><li>Project managers and developers often have a mutual interest in keeping a good relation </li></ul><ul><li>User’s as scape-goats for bad systems: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“ Not computer literate” </li></ul></ul>
  22. … it’s all about the digital work environment
  23. What has happened? (1) <ul><li>Technological shift mid-nineties </li></ul><ul><li>Web technology </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Rapid development </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Rapid distribution </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Utopian expectations and promises </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Many young developers and project managers without experience of working life </li></ul></ul>
  24. What has happened? (2) <ul><li>Web technology </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Weak interaction </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Lack of standards </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Micro-stress from waiting time (reloading pages) </li></ul></ul>
  25. Consequences <ul><li>Learning problems on a different scale </li></ul><ul><li>Control of work on a different scale </li></ul><ul><li>Increase in stress from cognitive load </li></ul><ul><li>Reasonable cause behind part of increasing stress in the work place </li></ul>
  27. Suggestions for future research <ul><li>Cognitive load of applications and systems </li></ul><ul><li>Surveys of total digital work environment </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Number of applications </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Frequency of use </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Differences between systems </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Frequency and speed of introduction of new systems </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Education and training in new systems </li></ul></ul>
  28. Change of focus <ul><li>Traditional ergonomics </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Monotonous computer work </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Physical strain </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Repetitive tasks, same system </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Single application </li></ul></ul><ul><li>New focus </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Ever-changing computer work </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Cognitive stress </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Multi-tasking with infrequently used applications </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Many applications </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Traditional usability </li></ul><ul><ul><li>One application at a time </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Focus on interface and functions </li></ul></ul><ul><li>New focus </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The application in its digital context in the workplace </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Focus on introduction, training, support </li></ul></ul>
  29. Wider implications <ul><li>Questioning the effects </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Cutting administrative staff </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Questions of power in the workplace </li></ul>
  30. [email_address] Questions? Thank you!