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 remotely, a whole new set of disruptions can take employees’ focus off their work at home. To get the most out of your workers, you need to be clear about your expectations and policies, and provide resources and training on best productivity practices.
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While technology is helpful and in some cases necessary for employees to do their jobs, it could be a major distraction. However, there are ways you can help prevent these tools from pulling your teams away from their tasks.
There are conflicting opinions on whether smartphones increase or decrease productivity in the workplace. In a TRUCE report, 62 percent of employees said mobile devices increase their productivity at work. However, Screen Education has also found that workers spend an average of 2.5 hours per workday using their smartphones for nonwork reasons.
It comes down to how the device is being used. If an employee uses their smartphone during the workday for productive activities only, 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 Debnam Property Management. “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.
In a survey by Malwarebytes, 52 percent of employees said they use their work devices to read the news. Another 37.8 percent said they shop online, and 25 percent said they check their social media accounts. Performing these activities on work devices can lead to security compromises and detract from employees’ productivity levels.
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.
You can browse our picks for the best employee monitoring software platforms to find the right service for your business. If you’re looking for user-friendly services to jump-start your search, check out our Teramind review, InterGuard review and SentryPC review.
Before you implement any such technological monitoring, set up an official company policy about nonwork 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 Accenture, 92 percent of employees support collecting data on their work habits if it improves their performance or well-being, or has other positive benefits. There are some legal concerns when it comes to monitoring online behavior, though. 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.
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 should businesses tackle the bigger issue of employee distractions? There’s no simple answer, but some intentional steps could help everyone move toward more productive workdays
“This is a big question,” said Nancy Snell, a certified professional business coach. “Issues must be addressed culturally and start from the top down.”
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.
One idea is to dedicate a period of time, along the lines of an hour or two, during which employees silence notifications. Employees should also limit their phone usage and refrain from checking emails during this time. You can also avoid scheduling meetings during this period and close off access to visitors to help your teams achieve ultimate focus.
While several everyday household distractions can emerge while working remotely, you might want to avoid requiring employees to work in the office. Try to avoid enforcing guidelines that could lead to presenteeism, in which employees are encouraged to come to work even when sick. Instead, you can encourage employees to prioritize focusing on their tasks wherever is most comfortable instead of adhering to in-office obligations.
In other words, sometimes, being physically present at the office isn’t a surefire conduit to quality work. You should clearly communicate to employees that efficiently and effectively accomplishing their tasks is more important than where they decide to do so.
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.
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. 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.
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 regarding what kinds of data you collect; otherwise, you could run afoul of privacy laws.
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, and provide time-management training.
Whether your employees are working in the office or at home, check in with them to see which distractions most affect them. You can present your team with your solutions while inviting them to share ideas they think will help them focus.
As you have these discussions, be sure to emphasize that avoiding distractions does more than improve your company’s output. It can also help employees feel more accomplished – and limit the number of tasks that spill into the next workday.
Kiely Kuligowski and Simone Johnson contributed to this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.