By Rieva Lesonsky
Do you ever feel like you have to leave work to get any actual work done? Between interruptions, meetings and distractions, sometimes the office seems like the least productive place on earth. You’re not the only one who feels this way: Many employees say they get more done when working outside than inside the office. Is sending them home or to Starbucks the only way to make your employees more productive?
Not necessarily. A recent study by Oxford Economics reports that, although employees want to be productive at work, open-plan offices, constant conductivity and technology hiccups are all standing in the way. But there are solutions. Here’s a closer look.
When asked what attributes are most important in the work environment, being able to focus at work without interruptions ranked number one. In fact, employees care more about being able to concentrate than having their own offices, subsidized child care or free food at work. In other words, as the survey puts it, it’s not about “beanbag chairs and free burritos.”
What’s hampering productivity? The study found three key elements:
Open-plan offices fit well with today’s emphasis on collaborative work, and being able to collaborate is one thing that employees value. However, open spaces can be noisy, especially if workers are squeezed close together as they may be if a small business is trying to save on space. In addition to distracting workers, noise can make talking on the phone to customers or clients more difficult as people on both ends of the call strain to hear. Filtering out background noise is mentally tiring, sapping employees’ productivity. Somewhat surprisingly, Millennial employees are more likely than other age groups to be distracted by noise, and find it more annoying than other demographics.
Solution: Take steps to minimize noise. Carpeting hard floors or putting down rugs will help absorb noise, as will window coverings, plants, sound-absorbing ceiling tiles and even wall decor. Basically, the more hard surfaces in your location, the noisier it will be; adding softer elements will bring the noise level down. Also be sure you provide quiet spaces where employees can hold meetings without disrupting others. Employees who need to be on the phone constantly, such as sales reps or customer service staff, should be concentrated in a space away from others who need quiet. Noise-canceling headphones, white noise machines or smartphone apps, and even earplugs can help, too.
While technology has made our jobs a lot easier in some ways, the study finds it’s still got a long way to go. Just 38 percent of employees in the survey say they have all the tools they need to do their jobs, and only 36 percent say the devices they use when away from the office work seamlessly with workplace technology. This adds to frustration over distractions: Employees may try to get work done in a coffee shop or at home because the office is too noisy, but find that they lack the tools to work effectively anywhere else.
Solution: Make sure your employees have the proper tech tools they need to get their jobs done wherever they are. If your employees work remotely, for example, or travel frequently on business, provide them with technology to use on the go. If employees prefer to use their own devices, as many do, try to find apps that work with multiple platforms or with the platforms that most employees use. This will help ensure that the devices your team uses in the office, at home and on the road all integrate smoothly, meaning greater productivity.
Constant connection via devices and technology is another factor contributing to distraction. Higher-level employees are more likely to feel the pressure to be constantly “on.” Collaboration technologies that indicate when people are on a social network or chat app can contribute to the belief that people are always available to be interrupted. There’s also a gap between expectations and reality: While only one-fourth of executives say they frequently expect employees to be available after hours, nearly half of employees think their supervisors expect this kind of responsiveness. More than one-third of respondents in the survey say they feel compelled to check their devices frequently due to social pressure and fear of missing something.
Solution: Set limits on connectivity. Try actually getting up and talking to each other instead of conducting every communication via electronic device. Make sure employees know what is and isn’t expected of them regarding responsiveness. If you don’t expect your team to respond to your emails on weekends, tell them so! That may be the only time you can get around to sifting through your emails, but they may feel pressure to respond. Some companies try email-free days or eliminate emails on Friday afternoon; others set rules such as no emails before 7 AM or after 8 PM. See what works for you and your employees.
The bottom line in improving productivity by eliminating distractions: It’s all about clearly communicating with your team regarding their needs, your expectations and how the two can meet.