If you ever wanted evidence that just because someone’s in the office doesn’t mean they’re working, here it is. New research suggests that the average South African worker is distracted 30 to 40 times a day, with companies losing up to 400 hours of productivity per 100 employees every day.
The research, conducted by workplace design and outfitting company Tower Bridge, canvassed a little under 1000 employees working for 40 firms.
It showed that most of the interruptions are between three and seven minutes long, and that it takes about the same time again for a worker to return to the task and refocus. At a conservative average of 10 minutes per disruption, including the average time it takes each employee to return to the task, 30 disruptions steal around half a day of productive time per employee — every day.
That comes at a major cost to the company. Let’s say that a firm loses about 330 hours of productive time per 100 employees every day. At an average cost of R120 an hour per employee, that translates into approximately R8 000 wasted per employee per month.
According to the research, the most frequent interruptions were caused by on-the-fly requests for help or information, using up just over 61 hours per 100 employees per day. Checking inboxes is the next most productivity-draining activity, using 56 hours per 100 employees per day, followed by changes in work priorities and general office disturbances and social distractions, each on a little more than 50 hours per 100 employees per day.
What this suggests is that most distractions in the workplace are as a direct result of the workplace environment. Far from wasting their time on social media and other online activities, it seems, the biggest drains on worker productivity are their own colleagues and the slew of mails coming into their inboxes.
A cost to workers too
These distractions aren’t just bad for the company either. According to Tower Bridge, employees who are under more pressure to do more work faster, are increasingly frustrated with the high volume and range of disturbances and distractions that require them to attempt to multitask. The stress that these frustrations cause drive up cortisol, the neurotransmitter responsible for lower cognition, reduced creativity, lower energy, and poor health and well-being.
Even more subliminal distractions in the workplace, such as movement, noise, temperature, light, ventilation, and even smells rob employees’ brains of processing power and energy.
Moreover, Tower Bridge points out, high levels of workplace distraction demand continuous attention switching (disguised as ‘multitasking’) that fatigues the human mind quickly, resulting in reduced quality of thought, higher levels of errors and stress and sleepiness.
Finding a solution
Given that workplace distractions can be such a problem, how should companies go about mitigating these distractions?
The first step, of course, is to recognise that employees need spaces where they can focus on work without interruptions, as well as spaces that allow for and encourage different types of collaboration and sharing.
According to Tower Bridge, office workers typically function in six different modes of work, and businesses that seek to achieve the greatest productivity from their employees need to bear this in mind when they are designing their workplace.
Creating spaces for people to function optimally in these six work modes will reduce distractions and interruptions, giving people the space that they need to get on with the job.
The six modes of work include:
- Task mode, requiring undisturbed space to concentrate
- Interact mode, requiring space to interact with others
- Collaborate mode, requiring space and tools to meet and interact in internal groups
- Communications mode, requiring quiet or private space to make or receive phone calls
- Present mode, requiring space and tools to receive or present information, such as learning, teaching or presenting
- Social mode, requiring space to refresh, socialise or work informally.
The research showed that typical office workers spend an average of 50-70% percent of their time in task mode, followed by 20-30% percent of their time in interact mode. They spend 10-20% percent of their time in each of collaborate, communicate, and presenting modes, with 10 percent spent in rejuvenate and social mode.
The workplaces that work for employees, and are the most efficient and productive for businesses, are the ones that take these splits in the working day into account. They show employees that their workplaces really understand their needs, and that they’re prepared to respond to them – something that is often far more motivating and profitable than a cash incentive.