BusinessDay

4 ways to help your team avoid digital distractions

HAPPINESS

In our always-on culture, employers expect workers to be reachable and responsive at all times. However, research shows that constant connectivity may be counterproductive when it comes to engagement and productivity levels.

Today’s smartphone users check their phones 150 times a day. Reading a single text message can double error rates on basic tasks, and it takes an average of 11 minutes to get back into the flow. Our phones have become compulsions rather than tools of efficiency.

Distraction’s long-term impact on productivity may very well outweigh the benefits of added efficiency. To overcome, or at least counterbalance, these effects, employers can build upon proven practices for fostering a positive digital culture:

— CREATE QUIET SPACES FOR MENTAL RECHARGING: Designate a space for employees to step away from work and devices to just be and think. Whether you install nap pods like Google, meditation pods like Cigna or just set aside a corner with comfy pillows, having space for downtime helps employees activate their neural default mode network, which plays a crucial role in chunking information — ENCOURAGE PHONE-FREE BREAKS: More than half of workers turn to their smartphones during downtime, even though research shows that employees who take their phones on breaks feel less restored and less productive after returning to work. A 2019 study of more than 4,000 employees worldwide found that “less happy” workers are about 57% more likely to spend their lunch breaks using social media, whereas “happier” workers are about 275% more likely to take a leisurely lunch with friends.

— SET THE SOCIAL SCRIPT FOR COMMUNICATION: Many employees feel compelled to respond immediately when an employer reaches out, even if communication comes after work, over the weekend or on vacation. Fifty-five percent of American workers reported checking their email after 11 p.m. Leaders can create a more positive digital culture for employees by explicitly setting the policy on when and how employees are expected to respond. Companies such as Deloitte are beginning to create “team charters” to document communication preferences and expectations.

— EMPOWER EMPLOYEES TO BLOCK OUT FOCUS TIME: Amid the constant din of meetings and emails, many employees feel they lack the uninterrupted time to actually get their work done. Employees who get even 55 minutes of time to themselves report feeling more energized (56%), friendlier (53%), funnier (23%) and even smarter (22%). To empower employees to be their most productive selves, encourage them to block out chunks of “focus time” on their calendars. They can even set up a short-term auto-responder explaining what they are doing and when they will be back (“I’m stepping away from my email to finish this project. I’ll be back in one hour.”). This small gesture communicates a sense of respect to other team members, but also signals that they value doing good work.

By actively cultivating both mental and physical spaces within the workplace, employers can reduce distraction and drive long-term engagement. It’s time to give employees a (real) break and, by doing so, unlock the full potential of your workforce. the digital wellness collective and the author of“the future of happiness.”

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