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Multi-tasking in the workplace: Tasks, information, and interaction contexts
PARC Forum

25 March 2010
George E. Pake Auditorium, PARC
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Information workers experience a high amount of disruptions in their daily work due to managing multiple tasks and interactions, and large amounts of information using various technologies. In this talk I will present empirical results from fieldwork observations and experiments over several years that detail the extent to which information workers multi-task, irrespective of their organizational role. I will discuss how multi-tasking impacts various aspects of collaboration and communication in the workplace. Not only do information workers switch continually among multiple tasks but they also switch continually among interactions in varied workplace contexts, such as the work home and organization. We found that people compensate for interruptions by working faster, but this comes at a price of experiencing more stress. These results challenge the traditional way that most Information Technology (IT) is designed to organize information, i.e. in terms of distinct tasks. Instead, I will discuss how IT should support information organization in a way consistent with how most people were found to organize their work, which is in terms of much larger thematically connected units of work. I will present a prototype of a technology that can help support people in their multi-tasking and will also discuss how the results present opportunities for new social and technical solutions to support multi-tasking in the workplace.


Gloria Mark is Professor in the Department of Informatics, University of California, Irvine. Dr. Mark received her Ph.D. in Psychology from Columbia University. Prior to joining UCI, she was a Research Scientist at the GMD (German National Research Center for Information Technology), in Bonn, Germany, a visiting research scientist at the Boeing Company, and a research scientist at the Electronic Data Systems Center for Advanced Research. Dr. Mark's research focuses on the design and evaluation of collaborative systems. Her current projects include studying multi-tasking of information workers, technology use in disrupted environments and the use of virtual worlds for work collaboration. In 2006, she received a Fulbright scholarship to conduct research at the Humboldt University in Berlin. Dr. Mark has published in numerous conferences and journals including the ACM CSCW, CHI, ECSCW, DIS, Group, and RE conferences and CSCW, CACM, and ISR journals. She was program chair for the ACM CSCW'06 and ACM Group'05 conferences and is on the editorial board of the CSCW journal.