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So you’ve developed a Future of Work (FoW) strategy that covers all the bases: An array of factors such as trends in business practices and workplace transformation. But as solid as your current plan may be, you likely forgot about one element of work that requires more than just a written plan to fight against it: Attention.

Technology is one of the major players in the concept of FoW, as it is the future. But when it begins to interfere with the success and results of what’s being produced, we must question if we’ll ever find a perfect balance. If we are to do so, how?

Are attention spans the problem? 

Over the last few years, talk of shrinking attention spans has been taking over headlines. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re seeing insight pointing to a cognitive overload rather than a shorter attention span. In a piece from USA Today, Crystal Burwell, director of outpatient services for Newport Healthcare Atlanta, described it as our brains becoming “short-circuited due to being inundated with information.”

So the growing attachment to their devices and gadgets everyone has been experiencing is only increasing the mental overload. As Burwell went on to say, “The external stimuli and nature of the environment play a major role in attention spans and building emotional resilience to combat COVID fatigue.”

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To contextualize in a real work scenario, a University of California Irvine study estimated that it takes an individual 23 minutes to return to a deep work flow after a simple workplace distraction. It’s become clear that it isn’t a matter of paying attention or hyperfocusing, but of how we battle against the digital environment we surround ourselves with. 

Do remote workplaces play a role?

Even almost three years after the start of the boom of remote work that came with COVID-19, many employers are still skeptical of its dynamics. With innumerable tools digitizing communications, collaboration, management and other elements of a physical workplace, remote work should be easily accepted. Yet the one element all companies struggle to measure, whether in an office or remotely, is focus.

In research conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit analyzing the macroeconomic cost of lost focus in knowledge work, it was found that “28% of time in knowledge work is lost to distraction annually.” And to no one’s surprise, 70% of participants reported checking email at least once an hour and for a total of more than one hour per day. This “toggle tax” causes the total amount of time diverted to increase in light of the numerous additional distractions individuals face in remote workplaces. 

The reality is that whether a company adopts a hybrid/remote structure or remains operating strictly in-office, the devices causing distractions are all around us and they aren’t going away anytime soon. The cost of this lost time ends up hurting the company’s pocket.

Artificial intelligence (AI) can be a solution to loss of focus

Think of it as AI vs AI. In the last few years, there has been a spike in the use of mental wellness apps. These systems help temporarily with stress relief, such as setting positive mentalities. But they aren’t providing real-time intervention and protection from the AI that is targeting us to win over our attention. AI can learn about an individual based on activity, and that information can also be used positively to develop personalized plans to help regain focus and leave the distractions behind.

Yair Nativ is the founder and CEO of Hour25.AI, which outsmarts digital pollution to help employees reach flow state and achieve peak performance in the face of technology addiction.

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