1. Email: Does It Own You?
Connecting employees is crucial, and there is nothing simpler than electronic mail. This is especially true if your business deals with contractors, telecommuters, freelancers or branch offices in other locations. Other advantages include a simplification of the document dissemination process that cuts down on copier time and paper waste.
The downside of email is just as apparent: Constant pop-ups or chimes alert users of the receipt of yet another missive. Interrupting the train of thought or flow of the workday, the notification that an email is pending results in an almost slavish behavior of constantly checking the inbox.
The solution: Disable email alerts and schedule regular inbox check-in times. For example, if the business allocates the first 45 minutes of the workday to clearing and sorting inbox items, the next 45-minute period should not take place until after lunch. A final 45-minute period takes place before quitting time for the day. Incorporate email use in the daily workflow without actually making it a distraction.
2. Instant Messenger Overuse
While collaborating on a project, the Instant Messenger capability is a godsend. It allows for real-time changes and discussions. It eliminates the need for a conference room or video and audio conferencing software and hardware. On the downside, this communication tool is major distraction, especially when conversations deteriorate into little more than banter.
The solution: Ban Instant Messenger unless it is for a specified period of time. All employees working on a project agree to schedule a collaboration time block. Once the time has passed, disable the use of the tool.
3. Management: Do You Have Reasonable Expectations?
While an email arrives virtually instantaneously after clicking on the "send" button, do you — or the supervisors and managers in the company — also expect an instantaneous response? Are you trying to save on the employee payroll by having seven employees carry the workload of 10? Do your performance metrics hamper rather than encourage productivity?
The solution: Unreasonable expectations open the door to multitasking beyond the scope of ability. The result is clutter, stress, the overuse of email and Instant Messenger, as well as an increase in mistakes. Entrepreneur refers to this fallacy as the “cult of multitasking” and warns the business away from perpetuating the myth that “compulsive message-checking is the behavior of an always-on, hyper-productive worker.” Re-evaluate performance metrics and workflow. Hire temps if needed, increase the workforce if plausible or slow down expansion until productivity issues are resolved.
4. Meetings: What Are You Trying to Accomplish?
Meetings are a major disruption for the productivity of supervisors and managers. Usually these are calibration meetings between different department heads or — especially in the call center environment — they mark the beginning of new ad campaigns. At the same time, these meetings take the people in charge away from coaching workers, dealing with consumer issues and also performing project management leadership tasks to which they committed. In short, rather than enhancing productivity, these meetings frequently zap efficiency and interrupt the daily flow of tasks.
The solution: If an email suffices, do not call for a meeting. Schedule a regular meeting that deals with only those issues that affect all attendees. Opt for either a late-in-the-day or first-thing-in-the-morning block of time.
5. Noise Zaps Enthusiasm for Work
Cornell University has discovered that “even low-level office noise” can adversely affect “task motivation.” Research connected the constant presence of this type of noise with the release of the stress hormone epinephrine. It leads to physical discomfort and low-level emotional distress. Although rote tasks, such as typing, were not adversely affected, problem-solving attempts decreased by 40 percent. Note that the workers themselves did not notice the stress elevation and therefore did not necessarily perceive a problem in either workplace setup or personal productivity.
The solution: Is it time to redo your workspace? Cubicles save space, but offices allow for an overall quieter work environment. Can you relocate noisy office equipment and limit the sound interruptions from exterior sources? Since workplace noise is a major distraction at the job site, it is worthwhile to think through your options.
A bored employee begs for entertainment. Facebook, social media, personal phone calls, on the job gaming and needless tasks are the playground for this worker.
The solution: Do not force an employee to perform tasks for which the worker is clearly over-qualified. Help a worker combat boredom by setting achievable goals to break down a particularly boring task, especially if it must be done on a recurring basis. Actively offer advancement opportunities for workers and do not shy away from awarding project leadership positions by skill not job title.
It is sobering to consider that the top distractions at the office are quite possibly created by the very work environment you are currently devising, perpetuating or instituting. Increasing employee productivity requires a rethinking of business as usual. In fact, it is fair to say that more ambitious performance metrics and in-depth micromanaging are certain to achieve the exact opposite. Who knew?
- Photo Credit: “Cubicles” by Larsinio/Wikimedia Commons via PD-SELF
- Entrepreneur, http://www.entrepreneur.com/magazine/entrepreneur/2010/march/204980.html
- Photo Credit: “Chinese plate (juggling)” by אנדר-ויק/Wikimedia Commons via GNU Free Documentation License
- Cornell University, http://www.news.cornell.edu/releases/Jan01/noisy.offices.ssl.html