Attention is your greatest resource (Part 3)

This is the third in a 3-part series. Check out Part 1 and Part 2 here.

As we saw in part 1, the constant interruptions that happen during a work day—up to 85—can drain your technical workers’ ability to solve problems and get things done. Worse yet, it can cause stress, anxiety, and eventually burnout. Stress spreads like wildfire through an organization, and if interruptions like this are left unchecked, you could suffer attrition of your most valuable people.

This is one reason why we built Stack Overflow for Teams. We needed to help companies to keep their most valuable members productive instead of reacting to pings, dings, and shoulder taps. We’ve taken the community framework that developers love when looking for technical answers and turned it into a secure space where your organization can host questions and answers specific to how your technology and business operates.

So how does this give your people their attention back?

Shoulder taps and interruptions for information end up being far more synchronous than we’d like; that is, when Alice asks Bob a question in a chat program, Bob gets that notification immediately. Alice might even expect an answer immediately. Either way, that big red notification sits there, waiting to be addressed. If Bob clicks in and doesn’t address it immediately, the chat room may move so quickly as to bury the request in a flood of new messages.

When Alice asks a question in Stack Overflow for Teams, the question itself becomes preserved as a permanent entry. If Bob doesn’t address it immediately, no problem. The question isn’t lost. In fact, Bob, who is busy with architecture review meetings all day, may not even need to answer the question. Carol on his team can come along and provide the answer. Alice is no longer seeking attention from Bob, just an answer from the organization. Anyone who has the knowledge and the free attention can answer.

But let’s suppose that only Bob has the knowledge to answer the question. As lead architect and employee #3 at WidgetCo, he knows everything there is to know about the tech. He can wait until he has the free attention to devote to the answer. No forced context switching while thinking through the latest feature design, no dual-task interference during the heated architecture review. Instead, precious attention gets focused on the task at hand.

One of the reasons that chat apps drain so much of our attention in modern workplaces is that they have become the central application in our workflow. Stack Overflow for Teams can help trim some of those down, especially direct messages, which have the added stress of social pressure.

On the other hand, we recognize how central these are, so we’ve created seamless integrations with Slack and Microsoft Teams. Your new questions will get sent as a message to the chat rooms of your choosing. But doesn’t that create an attention-draining notification and defeat the purpose of asking the question in SO for Teams? Not at all; you can send new questions to a chat room intended for triage, whether it’s a broader team room or one created just to catch questions. It’s still a notification, but an easier one to allow to sit until you have free attention.

Stack Overflow for Teams shows its true power to preserve attention once you have a question with an accepted answer. Without it, Dave would ask Bob that question, interrupting him again. He’d give the same answer, again losing focus and breaking attention. But with Teams, all Dave needs to do is search on his organization’s Teams instance. Voila, Dave gets the answers he seeks with no interruptions.

Instead of the person—Bob—being the single source of truth for a question, Stack Overflow for Teams makes the Q&A entry serve that function. If things change, Bob and others can add clarifying comments, make edits to the existing answer, or even provide a new answer altogether. Suddenly, you have a living record that grows with your organization while providing historical insight into how your organization got here.

Attention is precious. With Stack Overflow for Teams, you can create new processes that reduce the burden of notifications and shoulder taps on your most valuable employees. Move to a truly asynchronous knowledge sharing format and let your people spend their attention where it’s needed.

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