The FlowLight invention prevents work interruptions. Image credit: Thomas Fritz and ABB Inc.The FlowLight invention prevents work interruptions. Image credit: Thomas Fritz and ABB Inc.We’ve all been there: working feverishly in the ‘zone’ when John Smith from two cubicles away interrupts your rhythm with a question about your weekend. Also familiar: attempting to get back into that zone once John Smith has wandered away.

Thanks to an invention from a computer scientist at the University of British Columbia, there is now a clear and not-so-subtle way to encourage John Smith to pass by your cubicle.

FlowLight, a desk light that works much like Skype in terms of announcing your availability to coworkers, automatically changes between green and red depending on your keyboard and mouse activity.

"When you're interrupted, it can take a long time to get back into your work and it's more likely you'll make mistakes," said Thomas Fritz, an assistant professor at UBC who started work on the invention at the University of Zurich.

Inspired by employees at an international engineering company (ABB Inc.) that would place road safety cones on their desks as a signal to coworkers not to disrupt them, the device was tested on 450 employees reporting positive outcomes. Employees reported fewer interruptions and a more respectful office culture. Increased productivity was also reported by some employees.

Recently, the research team has tested an advanced version of the FlowLight with companies in Vancouver to determine if it can be improved by using biometric sensors to detect heart rate variability, pupil dilation, eye blinks or even brainwave activity. For this research, they are also collaborating with two Canadian companies that develop biometric sensors, Interaxon and Mio Global.