- Keeping employees free of distractions is critical to maintain high productivity.
- Smartphones and excessive internet usage can decrease work productivity.
- Some ways to manage your team's productivity are to accommodate various working styles and environments, provide access to time-management training, and implement monitoring software if necessary.
- This article is for employers who want to know what could be distracting their employees and the steps they can take to keep productivity high.
Keeping employees focused and free of distractions is harder than ever. When you work in an office, there are co-workers stopping by to chat, a deluge of meetings and a host of other interruptions. While some of those office distractions are gone with many employees working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, a whole new set of disruptions can take employees' focus off their work at home. To get the most out of your employees, you need to be clear about your expectations and policies, while providing resources and training on best productivity practices.
What is the importance of employee productivity?
The main distraction culprits, according to an infographic by Atlassian, are excessive emails, pointless meetings and constant interruptions, with social media coming in at a close fourth.
The average worker checks their email 36 times an hour and takes 16 minutes to refocus after handling a new email. Many employees attend at least 60 meetings per month, through which 91% of employees say they daydreamed. And it takes most workers two hours per day to recover from interruptions from co-workers. These distractions don't just take away from your staff's focus – they cost you money in the long run.
According to a 2018 survey by Udemy, more than 70% of workers report feeling distracted on the job, with 16% saying they almost always feel unfocused. All of this lost work is costing American businesses upward of $650 billion per year, and it is leading to vicious cycles of employee dissatisfaction: Productivity loss causes a longer workday, which causes stress and frustration, which leads to a lack of engagement.
Key takeaway: When workers feel distracted on the job, it can lead to productivity loss, inefficiency and overpayment for labor, all of which affect your business's bottom line.
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How smartphones and the internet impact productivity
Smartphones at work
There are conflicting opinions on whether smartphones increase or decrease productivity in the workplace. In a 2018 Google survey, 75% of workers said that handheld devices increase their productivity. After the pandemic started, though, Screen Education conducted a survey that found workers spend an average of 2.5 hours per workday using their smartphones for non-work reasons.
It comes down to how the device is being used. If an employee only uses their smartphone during the workday for productivity, like managing their calendar or connecting with clients, then it is probably doing more good than harm.
However, with all those productivity apps comes social media, the ultimate distraction. It can be all too easy to jump from your emails to Facebook, even if you tell yourself it's just to get rid of the ever-present notification bubbles. The next thing you know, you've wasted 25 minutes scrolling through your news feed.
"It's expected that employees will be inundated with plenty of distractions throughout the workday," said Dean Debnam, CEO of Workplace Options. "The important thing to remember is for employees to find a way to balance their workday and find ways to focus."
Some apps can help you track your own phone usage, which could give you an idea of how much time your employees may be wasting. If you find you waste a lot of time on your own phone and are able to overcome it, you could share the strategies that worked for you with your team. Perhaps you could start by asking employees to set "do not disturb" periods for phone notifications (except in emergencies, of course). You can also recommend employees place their phones out of sight – such as in a bag or drawer.
The internet at work
An employee monitoring system could be one answer to the problem of distracted employees. A program such as Activity Monitor will give you insight into your employees' online activities. It displays how employees spent their time, which websites they visited, what files they downloaded and their number of IM chats. [For additional employee monitoring options, check out our reviews of InterGuard, Teramind, and SentryPC.]
Before you implement any such technological monitoring, set up an official company policy about non-work use of company equipment. Transparency is always a good practice – be forthcoming about how your monitoring aligns with company goals and how you're going to do it.
According to a survey by Dtex Systems and The Harris Poll, "77% of employed Americans would be less concerned with their employer monitoring their digital activity on personal or work-issued devices they use to conduct work, as long as they are transparent about it and let them know up front."
There are some legal concerns when it comes to monitoring online behavior. There is practically no expectation of privacy on a company computer, but you need to be careful about what types of data you're acquiring and how you're storing that data. You don't want to run afoul of privacy laws, such as HIPAA. If a data breach were to occur, it could leave you vulnerable to a lawsuit.
Key takeaway: Smartphones and internet access are some culprits of productivity loss. Companies should establish clear policies on acceptable device and internet usage. Employee monitoring software is also an option if employers go about it transparently, responsibly and legally.
How to boost employee productivity
So, how should businesses tackle this issue? There's no simple answer.
"This is a big question," said Nancy Snell, a certified professional business coach. "Issues must be addressed culturally and start from the top down."
1. Restructure your workdays.
Many companies adopt no-email or no-meeting days or have strict policies regarding cell phone use at work. Some practice a culture of flexibility and remote work to help employees customize their work environment and workflow day to day as needed.
In an article for Chief Learning Officer, Sapience Analytics CEO Brad Killinger recommends implementing a "golden hour" where "for one hour, companies create a focused work environment devoid of distractions by asking employees to block apps, chat, and notifications; curtail phone usage; avoid email; put the kibosh on meetings; and deny outside visitor access, etc."
A regular golden hour can add more than $400 million annually to a company with 5,000 employees and improve employees' peace of mind and engagement, according to Killinger.
2. Value work completion over office attendance.
In an article for Inc., Rhett Power, CEO of Power Coaching and Consulting, recommends employers emphasize the importance of staying on task over presenteeism, which is when an employee shows up to work for the sake of physically being there rather than getting quality work done. Send a clear message that completing the task is what is most important, whether it gets done from a desk or the couch.
3. Offer time-management training.
You might want to make time-management skill workshops part of your onboarding process. It's also a good idea to offer periodic training opportunities to help employees build and maintain crucial productivity skills.
4. Be understanding of different workflows.
The important part of any anti-distraction strategy is to avoid micromanaging employees and making them feel distrusted or watched. Instead, you want to provide opportunities for employees to do what works best for them in terms of focus and productivity, and remember that needs will vary.
For example, one employee might need background noise as they work, and another employee may need to get up and walk around every hour. When it comes to concentration, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
5. Consider employee monitoring software.
Employee monitoring software enables you to understand and measure how much time workers are spending on their tasks and assignments. Some systems can track your team's keystrokes, mouse activity, social media and web history. When employees know you are keeping a close eye on their work, it can serve as an encouragement to stay on task.
This software can be especially valuable now, with many businesses moving to remote work. It can provide employers an indication of how employees are spending their days while working from home. The important thing is to be upfront with your employees and discerning as to what kinds of data you collect; otherwise, you could run afoul of privacy laws. [Interested in employee monitoring software for your business? Check out our best picks and reviews to see what's out there.]
Key takeaway: There are several steps you can take to help boost your team's productivity. You can restructure workdays, understand and allow for various workflows and work environments, provide time-management training, and/or implement employee monitoring software to let employees know their computer activity is being tracked.
Simone Johnson and Ned Smith contributed to the reporting and writing in this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.