Getting Ahead of Distractions

It’s no secret that distractions are at an all time high. Be it social, acoustical, visual, (attempting) multitasking; distractions are detrimental to productivity. How detrimental you may ask? It’s been widely reported by the New York Times that the typical worker gets interrupted every 11 minutes, but it takes 25 minutes to return to the original task. Not only does that add up to a crazy amount of wasted time and lost productivity (read: revenue), but studies like the one done by Udemy for Business show that employees are not as happy in a distracted environment.

If you’re a regular reader of our blog you know that we frequently mention employee happiness, and how it’s key to employee retention as noted here and here. Employees won’t be sticking around in a place where they are distracted and unproductive; particularly the much sought-after millennial workers. Best practices would include empowering your employees and providing them the tools they need to stay focused and productive. We’ve broken down distractions into a four main quadrants; social, acoustical, visual and multitasking and ways you can fight them.

Social Distractions

As more and more people use the workplace as their source of social interactions, it can be difficult to navigate when it’s healthy socializing and when it’s distracting. We understand that socialization is the at the center of collaboration and innovation at work but at the same time it can become a distraction for both yourself and those around you. Having the flexibility in your workplace for focus/quiet areas is a great way to facilitate focus work. Putting yourself in a lower trafficked area lets your coworkers know you’re trying to focus and are not open to social distractions.  Products like Nook Pods are a great solution to providing small areas for focus work, as recently highlighted by ISCG Interior Designer Kayla Vandro.

Soft training for employees are also a useful tool in minimizing social distractions by vocalizing when they are unavailable. Empowering your employees to use phrases like ‘I’d love to talk about this after I finish XYZ, can we chat at 2PM?”. Opening lines of communication so that team members know when they are being the distraction will not only lead to more focused workers but increased productivity and in turn increased happiness.

Acoustical Distractions

We are not going to sugarcoat it; offices today are plagued by auditory distractions; in fact it’s generally the number one workplace distraction. Usually the culprit is an overly chatty coworker, but it can also be music played loudly, phones ringing, or general office noises like copy machines. Incorporating tools within your space – particularly during the design – can be tantamount to minimizing distractions and keeping focus.

What can be done during design to improve acoustics within an office? Materials selected have a huge effect on sounds in the workplace. You may love the ‘industrial’ look of concrete floors and high ceilings but those are terrible for minimizing sounds. Adding fabric like carpeting, panels, and room dividers wherever you are able not only reduces sounds tremendously, but they also add visual interest and privacy as well.

Sound masking systems – like the one we have in our own office – also does wonders for acoustical distractions. While it does not eliminate sounds completely, it reduces the legibly of the sounds which has been proven to be where the true distraction lies. Learn more about how much sounds matters in ‘Can You Hear Me Now’ by Mary Jo Warner.

Visual Distractions

Visual distractions are another very common offender of office distractions. Having tools and products available to your employees to reduce visual distractions. Your visual distraction may be an awkward eye-line with another workspace, or a clutter filled desk. Utilizing semi-permanent tools like monitor arms to mount screens add visual privacy in addition to panel heights. Looking for a more temporary solution? The Corner Office desktop lamp by Pablo adds easily moved privacy to help you stay focused.

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 Multitasking Distractions

Multitasking is often referred to as a positive quality trait. “I’m a great multitasker” is worn like a badge of honor but the reality is that multitasking doesn’t work for most people, if anyone. According to NPR; “Humans, they say, don't do lots of things simultaneously. Instead, we switch our attention from task to task extremely quickly.”

What does this mean when you’re getting that desktop notification that will only take a moment to reply to?


What about the push notification from Facebook about your Uncle Ted’s 50th birthday in two months?


What about the sales call you’re about to get asking if you’re happy with your coffee service?

...say it with me… Distraction.

Luckily, while technology can be a source of distraction it can also be a source of focus. If you’re constantly getting distracted by emails turn off your desktop notification. For Outlook you can read the step by step instructions here. This allows you to check and reply to emails when it you’re able to focus on rather than taking away from other tasks. What about Facebook? You can also turn off your push notifications allowing you to receive them all the next time you log in. You can read those step by step instructions here. Lastly those distracting calls? If you work primarily from a cell phone put your phone on mute to focus on the task at hand; or put your desk phone on ‘Do Not Disturb’ to eliminate unexpected and unnecessary conversations.

The best thing you can do to minimize distractions is to plan ahead. From a design standpoint thinking ahead and working with an experienced firm who knows a thing or two about creating productive spaces is the first step; like they say you never have a second time to make a first impression. However, even if you already have a space you love (or moving/renovating simply isn’t in the budget) we can still help reduce some of these common distractions. Making investments in your employees’ happiness, no matter the size, is never something an organization regrets nor is it something your employees forget.