Open offices are all the rage these days. Low-walled cubes, open meeting areas, bench-style seating, even “hoteling” instead of assigned desks are all supposed to contribute to teamwork and collaboration in the office. While there’s no doubt being able to stand up and talk to a coworker over a wall leads to more discussions, it can also lead to more interruptions and distractions at work.
Several studies have demonstrated that not only are people distracted at work, but these distractions can negatively impact worker productivity.
A decrease in productivity, in turn, can negatively impact worker health, with many employees suffering in silence.
Everyone gets distracted at work
A recent study conducted by Poly found that 99% of employees say they are distracted from their tasks sometime during their workday. When the survey asked how these distractions impacted their work, 48% of respondents said that office distractions made it difficult for them to focus.
Specifically, 51% of workers stated that it was harder for them to conduct phone calls, and 93% said office distractions made it hard to conduct video calls.
Distractions at work vary by generation.
While nearly every employee reports that they experience negative impacts from office distractions, what those distractions are and how they impact employee performance varies by generation.
For example, the Poly study found that 52% of Gen Z respondents are most productive when working in a noisy space or chatting with coworkers. However, 60% of baby boomers say they need a quiet office to be more productive.
A Udemy study found that nearly 74% of all Gen Z and millennials are distracted at work. While office noise was cited as the top distraction at work, 69% of Gen Z and millennials admit that the second biggest distraction for them is their smartphone.
Workplace distractions can decrease employee productivity.
Although some people are annoyed by distractions, many think distractions are “not a big deal.” The Udemy study found that 84% of employees believe they’re able to refocus on their tasks within 30 minutes of an interruption. And 60% of baby boomers believe they can refocus on their task in less than five minutes.
However, a University of California, Irvine study found that no matter your age, this perceived ability to refocus quickly is not the case. While you may think you’ve refocused on your work, the truth is that all you may be doing is working faster to finish your tasks. This, in turn, may make you feel more stressed, more frustrated, and more pressured to get the job done.
Even small interruptions can double an employee’s error rate. A 2013 study by Michigan State University found that even brief interruptions (like a text message) can lead to nearly double the mistakes. This is because the workers had to shift their focus from one task to the other and back again. While the employee may feel that they were focused on the first task, the study proved that they were still distracted.
Workplace distractions can also harm worker health. When we’re distracted at work, we tend to rush through tasks. This rushing can make us feel less productive and less motivated, which can lead to negative emotions (like stress or anxiety). And if the you don’t talk to your boss about it, you may come to resent your boss and the job.
The top workplace distractions you can control (and how).
While some office distractions are things we have nothing to do with (loud coworkers, outside traffic, colleagues that have urgent questions), often, our distractions are caused by us.
Nearly half of the respondents in the Udemy survey admit that many of the distractions they experience are from the choices they make. A Ladders study found that 46% of workers keep their personal email open along with their work emails.
Fortunately, these self-created distractions can be eliminated with a few clicks, swipes, or taps.
Distraction: News alerts
It’s natural to want to stay informed about what’s happening in the world. However, alerts that come in every few seconds from multiple news sources are distracting. Turn off push notifications on your personal devices. Use a “Do Not Disturb” setting or disable notifications altogether. Also, turn off desktop notifications so they can’t sneak past your phone.
Distraction: Personal email/social media/digital
Lots of people will contact you at your personal email address throughout the day. A message from your child’s school might come in, or you want to track a package. Again, the easiest thing to do is to turn off all notifications during the workday. Schedule regular email and social media breaks throughout the day to check in. To make sure you don’t get sucked in, set a timer, and when that alarm goes off, get back to work.
Distraction: Taking too long of a lunch with colleagues
There’s nothing wrong with chatting at the water cooler or having lunch with coworkers. It can build positive connections to your coworkers and can be a source of social interaction during the day that helps give your brain a “work break.” Taking an extra-long lunch every once in a while probably isn’t a big deal.
But, if you’re worried it’s getting out of hand, plan a monthly get-together to keep things in check. Or, instead of heading out to lunch, order in or brown bag it in the kitchen. You’re less likely to take a long lunch with your bosses nearby.
The top workplace distractions you can’t control (and what to do about it).
Unfortunately, there are plenty of distractions at work you can’t control. However, there are some steps you can take to make them more tolerable.
Distraction: Noisy coworkers
Speak up! Many times, people don’t realize how loud their voice is or how much it carries. A simple (and polite) ask may resolve the problem. Once the loud conversation or phone call is over, let your coworker (or coworkers) know that you can hear everything they’re saying. If nothing else, let them know that it’s distracting and it’s impacting your ability to get your work done.
Distraction: Meetings, games, and general noise
The Udemy survey found that 60% of workers think a meeting is just another workplace distraction. While that may be the case (and something you can’t do anything about), what about meetings you aren’t a part of? In today’s open offices, there may not be enough (or any!) meeting rooms, so meetings may take place wherever there’s space. And, many office perks these days include table tennis, foosball, and other noisy games.
In these cases, a polite “Hey, can you keep it down?” may not do the trick. So, try headphones to drown out distracting noises. They don’t need to be fancy or expensive, they just need to keep the distracting sounds out. That said, make sure the headphones are comfortable in case you end up wearing them for a while.
If headphones aren’t enough, or your headphones get uncomfortable, consider relocating temporarily. You may be able to find quiet refuge in the lunchroom, a private meeting room, or even at the other end of the office.
Distraction: Office parties
Go and have fun! Seriously, breaks are good for you. They give your brain a chance to rest for a minute while you enjoy some cake. Breaks can help boost your productivity by giving you a chance to think about something other than work. This can reset your brain and help you focus on completing your tasks. The good thing about office parties is that they’re usually scheduled in advance so you can plan your break to coincide with the party.
What about the boss?
You’ve tried every headphone out there, you’ve relocated more times than you can count, and you still find yourself interrupted and less productive at work. Well, you’re not alone.
Three out of four employees in the Poly study said that they would work in the office more (and would be more productive) if employers did more to reduce workplace distractions. More than half of the employees said that they would like their employers to create quiet work zones or create a policy about noise levels in the office.
That said, the Udemy study found that 66% of respondents didn’t speak to their managers about the topic. So, why aren’t more employees speaking up about their office distraction concerns?
While employees might worry about appearing “weak” to the boss, Heather Myers, chief psychology officer at Tratify, theorizes that one of the reasons employees don’t speak up is that many work cultures today emphasize collaboration and teamwork. Clearly, working in a quiet zone is not a way to collaborate, and asking for one may lead to the impression that you’re not a team player.
Flexible and remote work may increase productivity.
Both the Udemy and Poly studies found that more than half of employees feel they’re more productive when they aren’t in a noisy office. The ability to work remotely and have a flexible schedule can allow workers to find a time and place that enhances their productivity.
However, employers need to do more to address distractions at work. Whether that’s creating quiet zones, allowing more staff to work remotely, or even moving the foosball table to a meeting room, employers and employees need to work together to create a productivity-enhancing environment.
Need more productivity tips (no matter where you work)? FlexJobs can help. We’ve got plenty of tips and tricks to help you stay focused and productive whether you’re in the office, at the coffee shop, or on the beach!
And, if you’re looking to ditch the office for a remote job where you control the environment, look no further. FlexJobs partners with more than 5,000 companies to offer jobs in over 50 categories.
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