Multitasking has been the watchword for over a decade. It seems that half of all job listings have multitasking as a required skill. We take pride in saying we only get through our day by multitasking. We also multitask in the name of higher productivity and lower costs. After all, if one can do the work of two, why hire two when you can hire and pay one?
It turns out that the some of the so called multitasking we think we are good at is actually something called background tasking. This is the case where one of the two tasks can effectively be done on autopilot or with very little interaction from us.
Background tasking is what takes place when we listen to the radio while doing the housework. Or when we watch TV while ironing. Apparently there are many people who think that driving is one of those things that can be background tasked while they use the phone or send text messages – I’m sayin’ it now people, it’s not!
Many of us identify another behavior as multitasking. It is called task switching which is when we try to do two things at once that both require concentration, decisions, alertness, and/or some form of conscious thought. And we think we can give each task 100%. We can’t. At worst we are doing two important tasks poorly. At best, we get the tasks done but it takes a lot longer than if we had done them one at a time. And we probably still won’t do them well.
And yet we expect customer support representatives to multitask by answering phone and text requests for support. Or we say they can handle more than one chat session simultaneously without taking the time to consider how complex the support is. If they are troubleshooting and resolving complex issues most of the time asking them to handle multiple sessions or multiple channels is unreasonable.
If there is a long stretch of time between interactions with a particular individual where that CSR’s brain has a chance to change over to a different topic for awhile without being interrupted by the first interaction, maybe it will work. Otherwise we are asking for a decrease in productivity, customer satisfaction, and employee satisfaction.
I say it is time to take multitasking out of the job description if the tasks are complex and require the same brain cells and concentration. We may be surprised at how productive we become when we do one thing at a time, do it well, and only then move on.
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This was cross-posted to the PhaseWare ITtoolbox blog Moving from a Helpless Desk to a Helpful Support Desk: