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