asynchrony vs. real-time for human processes

Google wave received a lot of attention for its incorporation of real-time in email – which makes a lot of sense for  conversations and discussions among friends. Intuitively, it seemed a lot less valuable from an enterprise perspective. I was trying to figure out why when I came upon this paper by Erik Brynjolfsson from MIT. He was looking at the productivity of knowledge workers that used a database and email for thier work. Lots of interesting data in the paper but for me the bottom line is: “On average, workers using more asynchronous email and database tools handle substantially more projects simultaneously. In contrast, traditional synchronous communication modes such as phone calls correlate with less multitasking“. His research shows that multitasking is the key to knowledge worker productivity.

Bottom line, tools that make email a more effective multi-tasking tool for processes can have a big effect on knowledge worker productivity.

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2 Responses to “asynchrony vs. real-time for human processes”

  1. Jonathan Barel Says:

    So, if I understand correctly, the synchronous aspect of Google Wave inhibits productivity?
    But Google Wave isn’t inherently synchronous OR asynchronous. It simply has the capacity for either.

    • Jacob Ukelson Says:

      I believe the right way to think about it is that real-time messaging (as in Google Wave) is a cute feature, but not a big a deal, especially in a business setting.
      As anyone who works with email in a business setting knows, asynchronous communication has its benefits – one of them being increased productivity for human processes.

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