Workplace Distractions – The Hidden Cost To Your Business

The modern office is a temple to the art of multi-tasking. But as new Technology has become an increasingly important part of our daily lives, it is also becoming more difficult to focus on what we should actually be doing – namely working! We check our Smartphones, answer an email, Tweet, update our Facebook status and get sidetracked discussing trivial matters with our work colleagues. Although this kind of social interaction is hard-wired into human beings and is fine in small amounts, the increasing number of distractions that are imposing their hold over us in the workplace is starting to have a detrimental effect on businesses. In short – your Twitter account could be costing your boss money!

Wasting Time On The WWW

However, while workers fritter away the working day surfing the web, businesses actually have to shoulder part of the blame for workplace distractions too. Even though the use of both hard and soft technology such as high speed computers and accounting software has meant that we’re all significantly more productive, the working environment seems to be specifically designed to distract workers and shatter their individual focus.

While nobody is expecting you to have your ‘nose to the grindstone’ from the second you walk in to the second you finish for the day, open-plan offices and the emphasis on teamwork and collaboration means that distractions are bound to happen. There’s little if any insulation from outside distractions, and that in turn can lead to personalised distractions taking hold; “I’ll just check my Twitter account. I’ll just see if my Amazon recommendations has anything new and interesting…” and so on.

Add to that a relentless tide of (quite often totally unnecessary) meetings and the pressure to answer internal emails ‘immediately’ all makes trying to focus on what you’re actually supposed to be doing almost impossible!

An Interruption Every 3 Minutes

Studies have found that workers are either interrupted or ‘self-interrupt’ every three minutes, with both digital and human-based interruptions both featuring high on the list of workplace distractions. Once that interruption has shattered a worker’s concentration it can take up to 23 minutes to refocus and return to the original task, according to experts at the University of California.

And for some companies it can be quite literally a health hazard too. The pressure of trying to fit a complete and productive working day whilst fending off so many digital and human interruptions is putting increasing pressure on workers, leading to higher levels of stress and, inevitably, mistakes creep in.

The trouble is that the line between what’s important and what’s trivial has become blurred for many, so an email discussing what type of coffee is available in the canteen becomes as important as one that is an urgent request for an equipment repair. The important becomes drowned out in the noise of the mundane, and that is bound to have a knock-on affect on productivity and, ultimately, profits.

So what can we do to cut the number of distractions? Well, the obvious is to incorporate workplace rules and if necessary software to block access to non-work related sites such as Twitter or Facebook. A re-organisation of office layout could also cut down on the number of human background interruptions, while a change in attitude with regards to email communication in particular could allow workers to re-establish guidelines as to what’s important – and what’s not.

While not all workplace distractions have a negative impact on productivity, many of them are completely unnecessary and do damage to the day to day running of an organisation. The introduction of ‘think time’ – time specifically set aside to allow workers to take a deeper look at genuine workplace problems without any interruptions from emails or meetings – seems to be working for some organisations. Others take a harder line to minimise the number of distractions.

But whatever method you choose, it should be one that returns ownership of the working day to the worker, and let’s them focus on what they’re supposed to be doing – working productively!

Carlo is a freelance writer who writes about business, technology and start-ups. He also writes How-To Guides on Intuit QuickBooks Accounting Software and is a regular contributor at Startup Malaysia.