There are a variety of environmental factors in your office that may have organically evolved into distractions—and the causes may surprise you. While distractions will arise, putting out unexpected fires isn’t what typically zaps day-to-day productivity.
Below we discuss the environmental factors that may be negatively impacting productivity and innovation. Also, the tools and resources you can provide your team to optimize their focus and create a positive environment.
#1 Open Floor Plans
The idea behind open floor plans was to improve communication and collaboration in the workplace. While this can be true, even the architects that popularized open floor plans have had a change of heart.
Open floor plans eliminated the boxed-in cubicle but created noise pollution and visual distraction. Some employees can block out the noise and visuals, but for others, it is a daily distraction. Not to mention, post-pandemic, many employees feel more comfortable with a barrier of sorts.
Many offices are redesigning their layout to include partitioned spaces and small team clusters. This might look a bit like booths in a restaurant with clear partitions that allow light in. Or maybe a long row of seating with non-translucent barriers. Or lounge-style areas for casual collaboration.
Hire an interior designer or architect who specializes in productivity-boosting design. Also, set clear expectations for your employees regarding conversation volume, personal calls, and overall noise levels.
#3 Clutter and Disorganization
Clutter causes visual distraction, serving as a constant reminder that there is more that needs to be done. This includes the clutter on your desk, and the clutter you can see on your colleagues’ desks.
Clutter is related to disorganization, but a disorganized area isn’t inherently a cluttered area. The more disorganized individual or shared spaces, the longer it takes for everyone to find what they need.
To maximize productivity in the workplace, declutter and organize by:
- Digitizing as much as possible to minimize paper clutter.
- Ensuring your team members have shelves, drawers, and file cabinets.
- Investing in shelf, drawer, and item-specific organizers for each desk.
- Empowering your team members to choose their organizational supplies.
- Upgrading to wireless charging to minimize the mess of cables and cords.
- Providing organizational training, highlighting its negative impact on productivity.
#2 Poor Ergonomics
Even in an office setting, it is important for employers to understand the importance of ergonomics. While physical in nature, poor ergonomics can lead to neck pain, back pain, and hand, wrist, and arm pain.
Physical pain is draining, which contributes to whole-body fatigue, decreased productivity, injuries, and even increased sick days.
Consider providing your team with ergonomics training, as few comprehend the intricacies of proper ergonomics or how to personalize their workstation. Maybe even offer one-on-one consultations with an ergonomic specialist.
Also provide your team with ergonomic aids such as:
- Ergonomic and adjustable desk chair.
- Desk footrest and personalized ergonomic aids.
- A sideways or ergonomic mouse.
- A split keyboard, even for laptops.
- Desk risers for screen height.
- Larger-than-laptop computer screens.
- A vertical computer screen if relevant.
- The option to sit or stand while working.
- Shock-absorbing floor mats.
As a perk, offer in-office chair massage, arm and hand massage, and discounted gym memberships.
#3 Communications Overload
With the increasing range of technology and communications platforms now available to employees, it can be difficult to stay focused amid the constant notifications. This often includes desk phones, smartphones, text messaging, emails, in-office instant messaging, project management instant and direct messaging, and more.
To ensure productivity, it is important to devise strategies to manage communications overload. This is an additional challenge because we live in a day and age of instant gratification, where the average American checks their smartphones 344 times per day!
Setting policies for personal phone, social media, and internet use is essential, but training your team on communications and time management strategies helps too. For example, teaching your team to check their email only 2 or 3 times per day and time blocking which we discuss in the next section.
Multitasking sounds great in theory, do 2 or 3 things at once to get more done by the end of the day. However, studies find that this approach isn’t sustainable. Short-term, multitasking may increase productivity, but you and your team will inevitably burn out. The quality of work will suffer, and decision fatigue will lead to poor decision-making.
It’s more effective to focus your undivided attention on one task at a time. A few strategies to consider include:
- Create a daily to-do list to ensure you know what your top priorities are.
- Task batch, completing similar tasks at the same time to optimize time.
- Time block, by setting aside 2 to 4 hours of time to focus on a primary project.
- Unplug while time blocking to ensure you stay focused on the task at hand.
- Know your most productive time of day and time block during that time.
We have an entire blog post that explores these concepts further.
Last but not least, you and your leadership team must lead time management by leading by example.
Micromanagers can have a negative effect on morale that can lead to a lack of motivation and decreased productivity. Leaders should strive to create an environment that is conducive to collaboration and allows individuals to take ownership of their work. It is also important for leaders to trust their team members and provide them with the space they need to do their best work.
The challenge is that many micromanagers don’t know they are micromanaging. Some believe they are simply staying on top of things, not realizing that their “check-ins” are hindering both innovation and productivity. Their micromanaging disempowers employees as they don’t feel like they have trust or autonomy.
In addition to micromanaging, be mindful that your internal policies aren’t so strict that they become a negative constraint.
Unexpected workplace distractions can have a significant impact on innovation, productivity, and employee morale. By understanding the sources of these distractions, you can take proactive steps to minimize and manage them.