Canadian Underwriter

How much time you waste toggling between applications

August 31, 2022   by Alyssa DiSabatino

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As insurance becomes increasingly digitized, brokers and other professionals may feel as if they’re spending more time toggling between apps and websites than they are doing their jobs, but there may be a better way to spend the workday, according to research published in Harvard Business Review.

Toggling fatigue is becoming increasingly common in business, especially for digital workers, authors Rohan Narayana Murty, Sandeep Dadlani and Rajath B. Das found.

Large organizations may have thousands of digital applications employees are required to use, and smaller firms often have tens, sometimes hundreds, of apps to navigate. As a result, workers spend a lot of time switching between apps.

“We found that, on average, the cost of a switch is [a] little over two seconds and the average user in the dataset toggled between different apps and websites nearly 1,200 times each day. That means that people in these jobs spent just under four hours a week reorienting themselves after toggling to a new application,” said HBR‘s article, which was based on a five-week study of 137 users, across 20 teams at three Fortune 500 companies.

“Over the course of a year, that adds up to five working weeks, or 9% of their annual time at work.”

Workers at one consumer goods organization switched around 350 times daily between 22 different applications and unique websites. “Over the course of an average day, that meant a single employee would toggle between apps and windows more than 3,600 times,” the research said. 

Constantly switching between tabs, apps and tasks — also called ‘context switching’ — can be cognitively taxing, according to psychology and neuroscience findings. 

And that can lead to mental depletion as workers may find their attention spans become fragmented, especially because many enterprise applications aren’t designed to connect to one another fluidly. 

Illustration of a laptop with applications and tabs popping out of the screen

While this toggling is often accepted as part of ‘how we work now,’ these trends are likely to worsen as we become more digitized, the authors said. 

However, if companies realize this way of working is costing time, energy — and in turn, money — they may be motivated to find better ways to work. Managers and leaders alike can take action to improve efficiency. 

For managers, “throwing people at the problem isn’t the solution,” the authors wrote. Fragmented IT applications are the root cause of the toggling problem, but this can’t be solved by simply hiring more IT.

Instead, managers should look for places where the design of work is causing friction. Managers can try to streamline work experience by starting with teams that must toggle between multiple applications. 

Managers might also want to explore rebalancing of employee workloads.

People who are engaged in work where they are constantly switching between applications are more likely to be bored and distracted. Hence, they are likely candidates for attrition or being disengaged with work,” the authors wrote.  

But members of the C-suite are often bigger agents for change than managers. Those leaders can get started by rationalizing the cost of introducing new applications into the workplace.  

“For example, a Fortune 500 retail pharmacy chain introduced a web-based pharmacy adjudication system to replace an old mainframe system — only to realize that most of their busy pharmacists were so used to the mainframe’s interface and response time they didn’t care for a much cleaner web interface. Speed and reliability were more important to them.” 

User centricity and user experience teams should be leading the design of new processes and systems to create ideal applications that are seamless, minimize digital distractions and work for employees, the article said. 

Leaders should also invest in building and nurturing a work graph, which if successful, will enable faster problem finding and solving, and give leaders precise insights into how their workers act and interact across channels and apps. 

In the Great Reshuffle era, it’s important for leaders to prioritize their greatest assets — people.

“The toggling tax is an example [of] the need for empathy for how people experience work. Such empathy, backed by data from the work graph is likely to scale and be the best bet that the most important assets come back next morning,” the authors said. 


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