Office workers wasting 20 percent of mental resources with traditional office software

An experiment conducted by Mindlab International found that both individuals and groups of office workers are wasting valuable mental resources

April 26, 2012

An experiment conducted by Mindlab International at The Sussex Innovation Centre on behalf of collaborative work management software provider, Mindjet, found that both individuals and groups of office workers are wasting valuable mental resources, performing less efficiently and retaining less information by using traditional office software when compared to visual mapping techniques.

The experiment used neurometrics, the science of measuring patterns of brain activity through EEG, and skin conductance, to compare the efficacy of visual mapping software with traditional office software. The results concluded that storing, sharing and managing information through visual maps (rather than in separate spreadsheets, text documents, e-mails and server files) leads to more accurate and faster information processing and uses fewer mental resources.

According to Dr Lynda Shaw, PhD CPhsychol, “The results underscore that the human brain loves visual images and processes information presented in this way much more easily. This is because, unlike traditional ways of working, the brain does not operate like a filing system; instead it stores information in sensory cortical areas and reconstructs meaning based on previously obtained knowledge, tied together by a complex web of connections. Visual mapping emulates this process with visual items that engage more areas of the brain, allowing us to see, explore and understand large amounts of data at once and convey abstract information in intuitive ways.”

Individual participants using visual mapping techniques used 20 percent less mental resources, performed 17 percent more efficiently and were able to recall 4.5 percent more data when completing every day office tasks than individuals using traditional software.

Similarly, groups collaborating on a project used on average 10 percent less mental resources, were eight percent more productive and recalled 6.5 percent more data compared to groups using traditional software.
With work-related stress being a major health concern in the developed world, these findings indicate that visual techniques could ease pressure for workers, improving employee and team satisfaction and in turn performance at work.

Chris Harman, regional vice president for Northern Europe, Middle East and Africa at Mindjet, comments: “Digital technology provides us with more ways to access and receive information than ever before. It’s revolutionised the way we can access data and knowledge, however it also means we’re bombarded with information from more sources than we know what to do with and it seems our current working practices just can’t keep up. Research conducted by Mindjet and One Poll last year showed that British office workers struggle to manage this information, with two in three of us feeling that we’re drowning in data at work, one in three e-mails going unread and the average person wasting two weeks a year searching for misplaced information.

“As most office software was developed in the 1990s, before the advent of big data and social media, this is hardly surprising. We’ve entered an exciting new phase in the digital revolution, but most of the office tools are stuck in the last century and need to adapt to deal with this surge and acceleration in data. New technologies, such as collaborative visualisation software, are being designed to solve these problems and the results of this experiment prove their value to businesses today.”

Dr Shaw also explains, “While a hundred years ago, linear note taking served us well when office life mainly consisted of reading, writing and simple maths, these days it’s clear that people are struggling to cope with all the information and technology that modern working life involves. Information overload is a new by-product of the evolution of intelligence and information, and is a very real issue. However, as we created this scenario, we have the power to work with it. By embracing new ways of working, which are better adapted to the way our minds work naturally, we can help employees work more efficiently, reduce stress and as a result cut absenteeism.”