We’ve all been there – at our desks, frantically working on an urgent deadline or busy with an important call when suddenly a colleague materializes to interrupt, needing help with some critical issue such as finding out where the coffee filters are kept. Or, perhaps in an effort to be considerate, they simply pace back and forth, casting nervous glances at you as you try to focus, succeeding in creating only a partial distraction.
Most of us have been on both sides of that desk, as interrupters or interruptees. And most of us have probably thought that it’d be awfully nice if there were some way to let others know that we were busy (or to figure out whether they were) before an untimely disruption torpedoed a million-dollar deal.
A company called Kuando has taken a stab at this comparatively minor, but certainly widespread, problem. Their Busylight system is a means of silently, and highly visibly, providing office-wide notice of when you’re on a call, in “do not disturb” mode, away, or available through smart little color-coded light fixtures that affix on desks, above cubicles, or at office doorways.
It’s a simple approach to solving a basic problem: The always-on light glows red when you’re busy (pulsing when you’re on a call), purple when you can’t be disturbed, yellow when you’re away or unavailable, and green when you’re available. Anyone within eyeshot can immediately see your status, and act accordingly. The color display is keyed to activity in Skype for Business or Microsoft Teams (the lights can also ring and/or flash when there’s an incoming call) or can be manually set by users.
Simple – but effective. And really pretty cool: For all their simplicity, they are a wordless, noiseless, process-less and highly efficient way to communicate important information to the entire group.
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In Red Level’s highly collaborative open-office environment, the Busylights immediately demonstrated their worth. By the nature of the work we do, our people have to balance the need for frequent consultation and collaboration with the need for intense, focused concentration on important tasks. When you have an immediate visible cue as to your coworkers’ current status, you don’t have to pick up a phone, send an IM, or walk across the room to check if it’s a good time to interrupt or not, whether to reconcile an important client issue or to launch an impromptu Nerf gun fight.
The lights save time, save effort, and preserve focus, a few seconds at a time – and they do it literally hundreds of times per day.
Before we installed the Busylight system, there was some trepidation: What would it do to our relaxed, fraternal office culture? Would it lead to micromanagement, or creating a perceived need to always appear busy? In our experience, fortunately not; our people quickly got used to taking a quick glance to see whether the person they needed to talk to was tied up at the moment – and they quickly grew to like having fewer untimely interruptions. As Help Desk Specialist Steve Hespel told me, “I think they do a lot for us, and make it easier to communicate. I don’t have to pull up Skype or Microsoft Teams to see who’s available or not. They just make life easier.”
“Making life easier,” after all, is a big part of what all this technology is supposed to do for us. Sometimes, a solution as simple as a little colored light is all it takes.