How Managers Can Deal With Distractions In The Office

The challenge is trying to get your work done
The challenge is trying to get your work done
Image Credit: Scott

When the pandemic hit and everyone went home, it made life difficult for managers. However, there were some benefits for us. One of the biggest benefits was that all of sudden a lot of the things that distracted us while we were at work like coworkers who talk too much and hybrid meetings went away. However, as everyone continues to return to the office, all of sudden these distractions are once again creeping into our lives. What’s the best way for a manager to deal with them?

The Problem With Distractions

The pandemic is basically over, you have returned to your office, now just exactly how are you supposed to get any work done? What could possibly distract you? There are all of those in-person meetings and never-ending Zoom calls that are clogging your calendar. Once again your commute eats the hour you once used to work through your inbox. And for some unknown reason everyone in the office wants to say “hi”. Theirs is this slow drip of basically half-baked conversations. ‘Do you have a just minute to talk with me?’

I think that all managers can agree that focus in the office has long been tough, especially since companies started ripping down our walls in the name of collaboration and lower real-estate costs. But after spending more than a year at home due to the pandemic, this return can feel almost like it has been designed to kill your productivity. Those background noises sure sound louder. Your chatty co-worker, who never shuts up, has over 18 months of gossip to share with you right now. And there you sit, at your desk, exposed, and unable to get any real work done. Our problem is when we’re just using our brain it looks to others like we’re not really doing anything. What we are missing is a signal that tells our colleagues: I’m doing work right now. Make sure that you close the door if you happen to have one. Or you can put on headphones. In the worst case, you can attach a flag to your cubicle and flip it up when you’re heads-down on a project.

Then, what you need to do is to both honor and reinforce your signal. If someone knocks, you need to politely tell them you’re busy and ask them to come back when the door is open. Managers need to create office hours which are periods where your team can come to you for help. To attempt to cut through background chatter, you should listen to instrumental songs, a nature soundtrack or music designed to stimulate certain kinds of brain waves. We all know what can happen if we can’t master our time at work: we’ll end up to working at 10 p.m. at home because it’s the only time we can carve out quiet time.

How To Get Rid Of All Of The Distractions

Managers need to realize that working late at night is both not necessary and really not sustainable. We need to understand that we can reclaim control over our environment. Let us remember that our remote-work settings were not always a bastion of peace and concentration either. Remember the screaming kids, noisy neighbors, and maddening leaf blowers? However, we acclimated. Now that we are sitting near our co-workers it just feels strange. We have to relearn how to work in an office for eight hours.

We need to understand that interruptions at work can deplete us, increasing stress and lowering job satisfaction. Alternatively interruptions can also foster feelings of connection and increase well-being. That positive effect is especially pronounced if the conversation veers away from work tasks. Understand that we as humans have an evolutionary need to feel a sense of belongingness. Interestingly enough, all of that chatter can play a positive role in our lives. It can help us connect with new colleagues that we’ve never met. Relationships can grow transactional when everything is online. Meeting face-to-face can help people be more honest with one another and assume that others have good intentions even when projects hit snags.

Managers who have some flexibility on their in-office days can work hybrid schedules to their advantage. You can coordinate your timing with the people you want and need to see. If your company ditched assigned desks, you can use the new booking system to reserve an out-of-the-way spot for days that you feel that you need quiet. Or you can abandon your work station altogether, setting up shop in a corner of the cafeteria or on a bench outside where no one knows to ambush you. We should always save work that requires deep concentration for home. Managers need to understand that returning workers are grappling with the existential question of, “Why am I doing this?” If members of your team feel unproductive and frustrated, they will be more likely to quit.

What All Of This Means For You

As managers, our goal is to be able to accomplish as much work as possible. We are the ones who are responsible for our own productivity. During the pandemic, we were working from home. Our productivity soared because we had control over our work environment and we were able to focus on the work that had to be done. Now that the pandemic has receded, we are in the process of moving back into the office. All of sudden, we are discovering how many distractions there are in the office. How are managers supposed to keep their focus and get their work done?

Distractions can come at us from many different directions. Applications can demand our attention along with coworkers who want to talk with us. A major problem that we are facing in the office is that when we are sitting there thinking, others may think that we are doing nothing and will have no problems striking up a conversation with us. We have a new obligation to signal to others when we are involved in doing work. During the pandemic we learned how to work from home. Now that we are back in the office, we need to once again learn how to work in the office. Workplace interruptions can distract us; however, in certain cases they can also provide us with contacts that we would not otherwise have. We need to coordinate our time with others in order to let them know when we are available to work with them. We need to make sure that members our team feel fulfilled.

Distractions are things that prevent us from accomplishing all of the things that we need to get done. As we return to the office we need to understand that there will be more distractions in our work environment than there were when we were working from home. We need to take steps to minimize the impact of these distractions on our productivity. We have to make sure that we work with our team to take the time to communicate with them and make sure that they feel satisfied with their job.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: What the best way to measure the impact of the distractions that you are dealing with in the office?

Click here to get automatic updates when The Accidental IT Leader Blog is updated.
P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental IT Leader Newsletter are now available. Learn what you need to know to do the job. Subscribe now: Click Here!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Let’s take just a moment to think about how you got to where you are right now. You’ve had a series of jobs that have eventually lead to you having the job that you have right now. Hmm, that’s all well and good, but how is this one currently going? If it is not going as well as you want it to, perhaps it’s going to be time for you to get a new job. Maybe you will end up working for one of your old bosses…