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Offices are a place that’s specifically designed for work, however, it seems they are among the most distracting places where we could be working. Since the rise of open plan offices employees have been increasingly more distracted when they’re supposed to be working.

Distractions are unavoidable when you’re working in a team. There’s a higher chance the roof will fly off the office than that the whole team will spend four hours in silence. Employees are either talking to each other about work (or personal) things, speaking with clients, playing music loudly, and so on. And when there’s a person set out to finish some work, they won’t only become frustrated by these distractions, they’ll be exhausted at the end of the day.

Each time this worker goes back to what they were doing, their focus will lower. Additionally, when they keep switching the focus they’ll eventually lose their energy and continue to slack. Low energy levels can also cause them to make worse decisions, have trouble remembering things, thus causing more mistakes in their work.

So the question remains, what can you do about them? To understand that, we first need to see what are the most common distractions in the workplace

Most Common Workplace Distractions

In 2018, Udemy and Toluna conducted a survey on 1000 US office workers with full-time jobs, and asked about their distractions. Here’s what they found:

  • 80% of employees are distracted by chatty coworkers;
  • 70% found the office noise to be distracting;
  • 61% were overwhelmed by changes at work;
  • 60% said meetings were distracting; and
  • 56% agreed that social media was a huge distraction.

office distractions

How Distractions Affect Our Work?

A large number of Millenials and Gen Z workers described themselves as distracted, and they agreed that this makes them feel unmotivated and that it stresses them out. However, not everything is so bad - 84% of respondents said they’re able to get their focus back within thirty minutes. Unfortunately, there is another research from UC Irvine study that suggests that we tend to compensate for interruptions by working faster. In return, we feel more stressed and pressured, so it’s no wonder that distractions make us unmotivated. Not to mention, these interruptions and the fact that we’re trying to work faster afterwards could be causing us to make more mistakes while working.

The abundance of workplace distractions leads to disengaged employees, who even like their jobs less because of this. Additionally, we begin to notice that we’re not able to perform as well as we should (and can), thus being less productive and not being able to reach our full potential.

The Best Ways to Handle Distractions in the Workplace

There are more than a few ways employers can try to minimize distractions and help their employees work without interruptions, and we’ll try to explore them in this section.

Allow More Flexibility

Allowing for more flexible working hours, or even adding work from home opportunities might be a great way to help out employees who get distracted. This way, they can start working before everyone gets to the office, or stay after everyone leaves already. Additionally, if they’re able to work from home frequently, they’ll build a more trusting relationship with you and become even more loyal to your company.

And all those employers who are afraid their employees won’t be working from home - our guess is that the Coronavirus situation has shown you that they will. Still, if you have reservations and feel like you need to keep an eye on things you can always use a remote employee monitoring software.

Establish Spaces for Quiet Work

While offices with foosball tables, darts and table tennis areas have become increasingly popular, these activities can cut down the efficiency, especially if they’re located in the working areas. If you do have these in your office, put them in the break rooms, or the chill zones of the space, otherwise you’ll have a lot of disgruntled employees.

There’s nothing wrong with having an office which will be used as a room for quiet work. Chances are that your main office has an open floor plan, which can be quite distracting. Depending on the size of your team and office space, this room can be used by several people at the same time. 

If you don’t have that much space, or a spare room. Let people know that they can use the conference room (if it’s available). You should also think about creating something like a phone booth space for 1-on-1 calls with clients. It’s really unnecessary for one person to take up the whole conference room if their meeting is in a virtual environment.

Provide Training

You might not realize this, but a lot of your employees aren’t sure what are the best ways to handle distractions. What you could do is bring in a consultant who will teach them new time management techniques, or how they could increase productivity

Additionally, given that workers complained how ineffective meetings were among top five distractions, get someone to teach them how to have effective meetings.

All of these skills will help your team minimize interruptions and keep their productivity at a high level.

Other Things You Can Do

Create general rules about the noise in the office. Talk with your employees about what’s acceptable and what’s not. The same goes for walking up to people to ask them questions. While the communication is simpler in person than through chat - try to make the IMs your primary way of communication. And let your employees know that they can turn off the notifications when they want to focus, and that asynchronous communication is the best way to stay on task. If you’re up for asynchronous communication, then maybe it would be best to stick with emails, no matter how much we don’t like them, it’s the easiest way not to be interrupted by constant messaging.

You can also establish days when no meetings would be held. Experts agree that Mondays and Fridays shouldn’t have any meeting scheduled. And the reason is simple: on Monday, you want your employees to roll into their weekly workload without getting interrupted, and on Fridays you want to let them wrap up the week so they don't have to think about the things they haven’t done during the weekend.

This article was originally written on May 13th, 2016 by Gina Ora. It was updated on June 5th by Bojana Djordjevic.

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