Why information overload is a growing problem (and what to do about it)

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In a recent study, 36% of managers said they were suffering from poor health due to having to sort through too much information at work[i].

Similarly, 65.2% of UK employees said their work was negatively affected by the high amount of data they have to process daily[ii].

Living in an information rich world certainly comes with all kinds of exciting benefits. We can find answers to almost any question via a plethora of connected devices, anywhere, and any time. But this abundance and rapid sharing of content also comes with a downside – information overload. This is particularly the case in many modern workplaces, where it can be hard for people to cut through the noise and find what they need.

So why is this happening? Why is information overload becoming such a problem in many workplaces?

In our experience helping businesses with their information and knowledge management, there are three key reasons for this overload:

1. Lack of process/structure

In most modern businesses, people share information quickly and in a highly ad-hoc way. However, if there’s no process or structure in place for how this information is shared, stored and categorised, it can be extremely difficult to accurately re-locate the information again when it’s needed.

Let’s consider a (hypothetical) mid-size architectural firm, for instance, that uses Microsoft Teams to collaborate on a daily basis. One member of a project team might share some important files with team members as attachments via email. Another team member might share links to documents via a Microsoft Teams chat, and another might file a document in Teams, but use a different naming convention to the rest of the team. Without a consistent and agreed way to save and find information, it can be extremely difficult for team members to quickly find what they’re looking for at a later date. 

2. Duplicate data

Often, we find businesses will store and share the same information in multiple places – on their SharePoint server, as well as in Microsoft Teams, and sometimes even in an on-premises environment, or locally on their own PC.

In our hypothetical architectural firm, for instance, one member of a team that works remotely may prefer to save files onto SharePoint, so she can access them quickly regardless of where she is working. Another team member who usually works on-site, may prefer to save files locally – and then save to the server when complete. This situation results in issues with version control, makes information very hard to find, and also makes it difficult for employees to know which version of a document, or location, to ‘trust’.

3. Information trapped in silos

A major problem that we see in many businesses – even those with a centralised collaboration solution in place – is that information is only shared within certain teams or departments, not across the business as a whole. This means individual pieces of data or information can end up ‘locked’ or trapped in particular areas of the business. As well as making information impossible to find, this situation also means that employees and teams miss out on highly valuable information which could be more widely shared. 

So what can be done to reduce information overload?

While many businesses acknowledge that information overload is a problem, most are unaware of what needs to be done to address it.

In our experience, the most important thing that a business can do is understand the scope of the problem, and how it’s affecting their productivity and effectiveness.

Agreeing on common conventions for naming and sharing files can also go a long way to reducing clutter and improving searchability.

If a customer is already using Microsoft Teams to collaborate, we may also suggest investing in our Teams Scout app, which offers a very fast and straightforward way for users to search for information in Teams channel posts, files and wikis, as well as Microsoft emails, calendar items, documents and more. If your business is facing an information overload problem and wants to chat through the options, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

[i] Smarp, How does information overload affect your business and how to stop it, 2020, <https://blog.smarp.com/how-does-information-overload-affect-your-business-how-to-stop-it>

[ii] Smarp, How does information overload affect your business and how to stop it, 2020, <https://blog.smarp.com/how-does-information-overload-affect-your-business-how-to-stop-it>

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