For many of us, our workplace tools seem to breed distractions. But, technology alone isn’t to blame.
So, how can we prevent distraction at work, where we are inundated with digital tools and the potential distractions built into them? In the work from home (WFH) era, how can we mitigate the new flood of WFH distractions?
In this article, we’ll cover the cultural and technological changes organizations will need to make to help their teams become “indistractable” while working from home.
We’re all distracted, but what’s really to blame?
When we get distracted, we’re quick to blame technology. It makes sense — the modern knowledge worker is flooded with tech tools and gadgets.
- A Pegasystems Inc. survey found the average employee toggled more than 1,100 times between as many as 35 applications a day.
- Employees reported being interrupted an average of 13.9 times per day by email, instant messaging, and social media, according to Workfront’s 2020 State of Work report.
- In the same report, respondents said they spend just 43% of their week focusing on their core job duties, and the rest of the time responding to messages, administrative tasks, and nonessential meetings.
What these figures really prove is that organizations are suffering from unhealthy cultures. Needless meetings and poor process optimization don’t help either.
Becoming distracted is our response to the cultural expectations we feel compelled to meet when using technology. When we hear that ping, we are motivated to instantly check it because our work culture conditions us to believe our levels of engagement and commitment are assessed by how quickly we answer emails. This “always-on” expectation for being available forces employees to prioritize constant communication over focus and concentration.
High-pressure work cultures combined with always-on communication tools flood employees with potential distractions and slow down the pace of work. Managing all of this in the office is challenging enough, but resisting WFH distractions is even harder.
WFH distractions threaten work quality and mental health
In the WFH setting, the always-on work culture dominates.
In an effort to ensure employees continue performing at the highest level, the volume of phone calls, Zoom meetings, Slack messages, and emails rises. As a result, teams end up spending the majority of their work hours reading and replying instead of getting work done.
The consequences of this can wreak havoc on individual outputs, as well as mental health. All of this pressure can contribute to work-related stress, anxiety, burnout, disengagement, absenteeism… the list goes on.
Overcome WFH distractions with cultural changes & the right tools
Individuals can learn to overcome distractions from technology in their personal lives by becoming more aware and changing their behaviors. But at work, employees have less control over the cultural expectations their managers impose.
“While learning to control distractions on our own is important, what do we do when our jobs repeatedly insist on interrupting our plans? How can we do what is best for our careers, not to mention our companies, when we’re constantly distracted? Is today’s always-on work environment the inescapable new normal or is there a better way?”
-Nir Eyal, “Indistractable”
There is a better way. Overcoming WFH distractions and enabling focused, fast-paced work requires a dual approach.
First, leaders must understand how negative work cultures and an abundance of communication platforms actually encourage distraction instead of focus. They must also acknowledge how standards for communication tend to become even more unreasonable in the WFH setting, and proactively work to shift away from this always-on mentality. They need to demonstrate that their priority is high-quality work, not instant Slack replies or inbox zero.
Second, they need to become more strategic about their digital arsenal. In our new era of universal WFH, teams will require remote work technology that is designed to streamline communication, eliminate unnecessary meetings, increase transparency, and foster seamless collaboration. Here at monday.com, we’ve suggested methods for effective video conferencing that have helped ease some of the distractions associated with that tool, for instance.
Interestingly, while some companies are building tools that seem designed to encourage distraction, others are developing a new breed of software that promotes an entirely new way of working. One such tool is a Work OS, a new type of digital workspace that is designed to help employees go from being “always-on” to “always-accessible.”
The right tool will solve both challenges
One of the most interesting things about the digital era we live in is how we are so used to shaping our mindsets and behavior around the technology we use. For example, if it weren’t for instant messaging tools, smartphones, and email, this “always-on” culture couldn’t even exist.
That means the flip side is true too — with the right tools, we can actually facilitate positive cultural change as we navigate this new WFH reality.
Using a Work OS automatically guides the evolution from “always-on” to “always-accessible.” Unicorns in this space are gaining momentum — such as monday.com, Notion, and Airtable — as more organizations are realizing the need for enhanced collaboration, faster information sharing, and better communication in the WFH setting.
With a system that serves as a single source of truth, employees can always access the information they need from any of their tools in a clear and streamlined way. That means fewer questions, fewer pings, and fewer chances for WFH distractions. We all need to find a way to actually work from home, and this is it.