Are we all in danger of becoming digital hoarders?

Are we all in danger of becoming digital hoarders?

Funding to tackle one of our newest office problems as stresses and strains of digital age leave us open to cyber attacks

The benefits of working in a digital business in the North East are clear – skills are developed, jobs created, international markets are there for the taking and innovation is a non-stop production line of ideas and new processes that are establishing a strong reputation for our entrepreneurs.

With all that going on, it is interesting to dip below that wave of activity and look at one of the big changes that may have been lost along the way – the new digital workflow. It was one of the earliest and most striking changes we were told to expect – a clean desk policy beloved of managers in every sector as the option of storing on disks and CDs and then on the cloud meant there would be no need for delicately-balanced piles of papers and overflowing In-trays.

But as we go deeper into the digital age, there is a growing problem with potentially dangerous implications. While our offices might be clearer (apart from the usual mouse, keyboard, phone and screen, how many items are on your desk as you read this?) the virtual desks we have been using are creaking under the weight of countless documents and attachments.

The dangerous side of it all is that digital hoarding can cause stress, cost businesses money and be a cybersecurity risk.

It is such a new and growing issue that experts from Northumbria University in Newcastle have won funding to look at the risks.

The Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats (CREST) says that while extensive research has been carried out into physical hoarding, little has been done into the modern day equivalent. They have teamed up with the university to look into why people hoard data and information digitally, the impact on organisations and how behaviours can be changed.

Previous research has shown, for example, that users typically keep half of the emails they receive and reply to about a third of them and that few people proactively tidy out their emails.

Digital hoarding by employees has an economic cost for organisations as employees can struggle to find the information they need to carry out their work as well as impact on the carbon footprint with organisations having to back up lots of information and data, which is no longer required. Digital hoarding also has a cybersecurity risk as people can access and use information illegitimately.

Associate Professor of Psychology at Northumbria Dr Nick Neave, who is leading the research, said: “We all know how frustrating it is when you can’t find what you are looking for; even more so in today’s digital age. Not being able to find that document, image or email you need is not only frustrating, but costs organisations time and money and can cause stress and anxiety for those involved.

“This research project is the first to explore the characteristics of digital hoarding; who is hoarding, why and what can be done to change that behaviour in order to reduce the risk and to help staff and employers. We hope the findings will also help people in their normal lives too as our use and reliance on digital continues to increase.”

The research project involves carrying out a survey of employees at a number of large organisations, including local authorities, universities and emergency services; initially to identify hoarders, their characteristics and the extent of hoarding symptoms. Those individuals who score highly on digital hoarding will then be invited to take part in focus groups to look in more detail at their digital hoarding behaviour as well as how that behaviour could be changed.

As the Internet of Things becomes a bigger part of our lives, it is the job of Dr Neave and his team to make sure the Internet of Things On Our Desk becomes less of a problem.