Good Thinking

Workplace "traffic light" knows when you don't want to be bothered

Workplace "traffic light" know...
The Flowlight is green, so it's alright to bug her
The Flowlight is green, so it's alright to bug her
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The Flowlight is green, so it's alright to bug her
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The Flowlight is green, so it's alright to bug her

Perhaps you're one of those people who puts up a Do Not Disturb note when you really get "in the zone" and don't want to be interrupted by coworkers. While it's a good idea, you often don't even notice when you're slipping into that high-productivity mindset. Also, there's the small fact that stopping to put up a note is an interruption in and of itself. With that in mind, a scientist from the University of British Columbia has invented a desktop LED light that automatically switches between green ("It's OK to talk to me") and red ("Leave me alone").

Assistant professor Thomas Fritz first started work on the "FlowLight" at the University of Zurich. It was inspired by a system used by workers at international engineering firm ABB Inc., wherein they would place road safety cones on their desks when they didn't want to be disturbed.

The FlowLight determines an employee's engagement simply by tracking their keyboard and mouse activity – the more they're typing and mousing, the more it's assumed that they're concentrating, resulting in the light turning red. When the activity lessens, it goes back to green.

There's a maximum amount of time that the light can be red within one day, however. This is to keep people from feeling that they're not working hard enough, or from competing with their coworkers.

When tested with a total of 449 employees at 15 ABB offices in 12 countries for four weeks, the FlowLight system was said to have produced good results. Users reported 46 percent less interruptions, along with a work culture in which people were more respectful of one another's time.

That said, people can certainly be "in the zone" yet not using their computer. That's why Fritz and his PhD student Manuela Züger are now testing an advanced version of the technology that uses biometric sensors to also measure variables such as heart rate, pupil dilation, eye blinks or conceivably even brainwave activity.

A paper on the research is being presented next week at the CHI 2017 conference in Denver, Colorado.

Source: UBC

4 comments
guzmanchinky
Hmm, it should also look to see if you're on a phone call and be red then.
LordInsidious
46% less interruptions because about half the office doesn't respect thier co-workers.
Daishi
Lumberg: "Peter, I'm still waiting for the TPS report from you with the cover letter and I noticed your light has been green a lot today. Could you go ahead and work on that report?" The first feature companies would request is the ability to read these and aggregate the data into a report so annual reviews would come up and you would have a spreadsheet and pie charts on your productivity habits. I agree with @guzmanchinky about having an "on air" light when someone is on a call and not muted as a warning to people around them to be mindful of what they say. For the work status light controlling it yourself would probably be fine if there were more than a couple states (red and green).
EmilyClingman
I think this is a great idea, but what would make it perfect is if the employee had control over it. After I read the part about how much time it takes to write and hang a note, I expected to read that a flip of a switch from red to green would solve that problem. The science behind the sensors is cool, but I would like the opportunity to flip it to red whenever I KNOW I don't want to (or can't) be disturbed -- and vice versa.