Employee productivity numbers can be difficult for a manger to look at. According to some studies, 40% of the average workers’ day is spent on non-work activities. Granted, that percentage encompasses some necessary tasks like checking email, but it’s certainly true that almost every workforce could benefit meaningfully from fewer distractions.
Plus, employees who can stay deeply engaged at their job are happier. It’s no secret that few employees are satisfied working in an environment that’s constantly tearing away their focus with bragging coworkers, endless Slack alerts, or yet another meeting.
Getting rid of office distractions isn’t as simple as it sounds, however. Managers can’t mandate that no distractions are allowed: Even when employees are willing, it’s easy for anyone to get distracted by a new article or notification. The only solution is crafting a distraction-free workplace culture.
Here are five suggestions to keep in mind when working towards a workplace its own with an inner sense of peace.
Cut Down on Sound Pollution
Ringing phones are among the worst office distractions, according to one 2019 survey, right under coworkers who talk too loudly to be ignored. Other decibel-heavy sources of office distraction include heating systems, air conditioners, coffee makers, and copy machines. It can all add up to a cacophony that dramatically reduces a workforce’s ability to stay locked into their workload.
Even worse, all that sound may even have a deadly impact: A noisy workplace boosts the risk of heart disease, doctors have found. Occupational noise exposure can make employees 14% more likely to develop high blood pressure and 9% more likely to have high cholesterol levels. This is a case where the productive choice is also the healthier one.
You can request employees cut down on noisy processes and ban some of them entirely or relegate them entirely to the breakroom. If specific employees struggle more than others, a high-quality pair of headphones might help.
Granted, you can’t expect to cut out all noises, but by becoming a noise-conscious workplace, you’ll help your employees become more productive while keeping them healthier and saving their hearing to boot.
Feedback is important because you’ll often need to deal with specific distractions on a case-by-case basis. Take the previous point as an example: Should you address loud phone rings or notification noises in the office by ruling the workplace a ring-free zone, or will your employees revolt? It depends on how they feel, and you’ll only find that out by asking them.
The same goes for plans to consolidate birthday celebrations into one monthly occasion, allowing pets in the workplace, or moving the foosball table around the corner from your open office plan. In all cases, you may want to ask for feedback, whether through an anonymous online form or through casual one-on-one conversations.
Above all, feedback must be paired with managerial action. Not all decisions should be unilaterally decided by employees, but listening to their feelings about any important decision is essential. It lets a manager align their management style with what their employees will respond well to.
Streamline Common Tasks
Checking email, reading the latest industry news, and tying up loose ends from the day before can take up a full hour of a workday, even before an employee starts a minute of their actual project. When helping employees stay on task, it’s important to look at the common chores like answering email or following up with clients. The faster these chores are out of the way, the more productive everyone will be.
The best method of streamlining daily chores is through a high-quality software program. Research the best product management tools, and chose from the top options like Jira, Mavenlink, or Asana. In some cases, more specific software services might be entirely dedicated to time management or to workflow optimization within your industry.
Demo the software with one team first, to make sure it works well, and expand use out to the rest of your employees if you like the results.
You can expect a slight productivity dip while the workers get used to the service, but the end result should more than make up for any downswings.
Create an Accountable Culture
Workplace culture is notoriously difficult to change once it has been established. It’s easy for disruptive habits to become the cultural norm, from gossiping to loud music to conversations that interrupt a coworker’s workflow. This doesn’t mean, however, that it is impossible to tweak a culture towards a more accountable direction.
The best time is during the hiring stage, when potential new employees are setting their expectations for the first time. Try asking questions about the employee’s motivation and priorities while on the job, and hire on employees who aren’t just a “culture fit,” but could serve as a “culture add,” bringing their own sense of focus to the workplace.
When enough workers are holding each other accountable for their daily tasks, they’ll naturally lean towards staying engaged and productive throughout their workday.
How can employees stay productive if they’re on break? Because there’s no avoiding the fact that everyone needs a break now and then. Humans are hardwired to take breaks once in a while. If they try to avoid them and push through, their level of engagement drops, making their work even slower than if they had taken the break in the first place. In other words, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
One method, the Pomodoro Technique, offers a strict routine, demanding a five-minute break after every twenty-five-minute period of work. You won’t need to be that stringent. By taking regular five- or ten-minute intervals for a drink of water, cup of coffee, a snack or a bathroom break, your employees will stay fresh across the day.
Moving around is also a great idea: Getting the blood flowing can help workers get out a little energy. It serves a dual purpose, as the worker will be healthier and happier in addition to being more relaxed in the afternoon. Try encouraging hobbies or activities over the lunch break period. Offering an employee gym or repaying employees’ gym memberships through a third-party app is a great choice, while introducing classes for yoga or even just a book club might also be right for your employees’ interests.
Incentivize breaks correctly, and your employees will return recharged and ready to apply their very best work to the task at hand.