As remote teamwork has risen over the past decade—and especially over the past few years—so too has the number of tools and solutions to support it. But for many teams, more solutions have meant more problems.
It’s a productivity paradox: the more digital our workdays become, the more digital tools there are competing for our attention. Even some of the solutions meant to help us work better and faster in distributed work environments have become huge sources of distraction.
To regain your productivity, reclaim your workday and reduce some of those sources of digital distraction, it helps to know how to identify and address them.
Here are eight of the top distractions continually undermining your productivity and remote teamwork—as well as some ideas to help you get things back on track.
1. Messages are cluttering your remote team inboxes
Tools like Slack and Teams were created to streamline communication for distributed teams. Yet many people who use these tools admit all those messages can be more burdensome than helpful.
“Slack is just another source of interruptions,” according to Gloria Mark, co-author of research on the cost of interrupted work.
“People have on average about 2 to 2.5 intervening tasks before they go back and resume what they originally were interrupted from.”
This distraction from focused work costs time, work quality and wellbeing. Team members try to compensate by working faster, but then make more mistakes and burn out more easily. What’s more, they still wind up working longer hours to make up for the lost time.
One way to control distractions is to create better boundaries and clearer settings around messaging.
Some companies only allow the use of Slack or Teams from 9am to 12pm, for example. Others have detailed policies around what types of messages can be sent, and to whom, as well as how to set your status (and be mindful of others’) to signal availability.
2. Push notifications are continually interrupting work
On top of receiving messages, we also often push notifications from our tech stack to all our devices. We want to stay on top of our work as it happens, but at what cost?
Push notifications create a near-constant source of digital distraction. The ongoing pings drag our attention away from focused work and often keep us stuck in collaboration platforms when we could be getting things done.
- Over 1 billion messages are sent on Slack each week.
- The average user spends 9 hours signed into the platform each workday.
- Slack users spend 90 minutes per workday actively using the platform.
Yet how much of this communication is relevant and actionable? In many cases, push notifications distract as many recipients as they assist.
What can you do about it?
Inspect your notification settings. Do you really need all of the information you get pinged for? If you do, do you really need it immediately—or could you mute notifications until an appropriate time?
Take a good hard look at your team’s usage of notifications to determine where improvements can be made. You don’t necessarily have to ditch the #watercooler channel, for example, but maybe muting notifications for it would help.
3. Email are STILL bogging down digital teamwork
Slack and Teams promised to leave email in the dust. Instead, most of us are now stuck managing both forms of communication.
The number of emails sent per day worldwide continues to rise into the hundreds of billions , with no projections of slowing down anytime soon. Combined with messages and notifications from collaboration platforms, this is an immense communication (over)load.
To address this inundation of digital distractions, remote teams must dam up and control communication flow.
Develop policies around what types of communication happen via email vs. messaging apps. When you do send emails, be sure intentions and action items are clear.
You can also try using inbox management tools like labels to stay organized. Consider designating just one or two times a day when you check and action email. And for the love of focus time , unsubscribe from those mailing lists that are no longer relevant!
4. Distributed team meetings are competing for your attention
It wouldn’t be a complete work distraction list if we didn’t include our favorite form of remote teamwork: meetings.
In the U.S., an estimated $37 billion and 24 billion hours are lost to unproductive meetings every year. Additionally, 65% of employees said meetings prevent them from completing their work.
You’ve been there. You open your calendar at the top of your digital workday and immediately know it’s going to be one of those days where nothing gets done. If you see your team’s time being eaten up this way, look into establishing better policies around meetings and communication.
Not everything requires a meeting, and not everyone needs to be included in every meeting.
Dig into how much time your team spends in meetings and how much time is left for deep work. Start being more intentional with meetings and reduce your remote team’s distraction.
5. Synchronous remote teamwork is being overdone
One of the downsides to the rushed rollout of distributed teams over the last few years has been the idea of ‘bringing the office home’. Specifically, we’re referring to the belief that team members should all be signed on and available from nine to five in the company’s time zone.
In addition to any non-digital-related distractions in the home, this expectation makes it difficult-to-impossible for many workers to engage in focused, deep work at times that work for them.
The continual chatter of every team member being online all at once interrupts any attempt to stay on task.
Strictly synchronous work doesn’t translate well in digital-first organizations. Inevitably, some workers are forced to work during their least productive times of day. This creates friction, a struggle to find work-life balance and ultimately burnout.
Asynchronous work , when balanced well with established periods of synchronous communication, alleviates this problem. By allowing people to work at times where they’re most focused, you can harness your remote team’s peak productivity.
6. Context switching is leading to lost time and focus
Digital distraction doesn’t just come from our communication tools. It also comes from toggling between them and the rest of our tech stacks.
Additionally, nearly half of workers report context switching is a drain on their productivity. People like to think they’re good at multitasking, yet studies show only 2.5% of people might actually be.
Deep work tends to happens when we work within a single platform for an extended period of time.
According to research , the ability to remain in a state of peak concentration where your brain works at maximum potential hinges on distraction-free periods.
To cut back on context switching, try to reduce how many unique tools you’re using. Alternately, or in addition to that, find platforms that consolidate data from all or most of your tech stack in one easy place. The less toggling your team members do, the more focused they’ll be.
7. SaaS sprawl is taking over distributed teams
Cutting back on context switching can also help cut back on another digital distraction: SaaS sprawl.
SaaS sprawl is the other side of the toggling coin. When you have too many overlapping tools, remote teams are left searching through multiple platforms to find the most recent updates. Believe it or not, 58% of office professionals rate searching for information as a top problem in the digital workplace .
Finding and compiling distributed information is exhausting, but it can be corrected. Manage your stack well, limiting situations where overlap leads to conflicting or duplicate data. Simplify as much as possible and create work transparency so it’s easy for everyone to find what they need.
Often, the simplest tool for a job is the best one.
8. Your phone is a digital distraction, of course
Finally, at the end of the day, you’ll have to be realistic about the digital distractions brought on by mobile phones.
These secondary, smaller screens with their combination of work and personal notifications easily pull us away from even the most streamlined digital workspaces on our computers.
On average, employees spend 56 minutes each workday using their phones for non-work-related activities.
Find yourself distracted by your phone more often than not? Try an out of sight, out of mind approach.
Silence it, put it in a drawer and commit to only checking it at designated times. Of course, let others at work and home know you’re doing this—that way they know not to contact you there for anything urgent. Who knows, telling your team about this practice may encourage them to do the same.
Battle digital distraction at work with data
There are countless tweaks and adjustments we can make to our digital workdays to improve productivity and remote teamwork. Performing a digital technology audit with a work analytics tool like Produce8 helps identify problem areas for you and your team.
With deep insights into your team’s tech stack usage, you can experiment with changes and measure results to ensure you’re moving in the right direction. For example, Produce8 makes it easy to quantify time leakage to things like meetings, messages and notifications. It also displays app usage data so you can understand how your team is using your tech stack and how that usage could evolve.
With this information, you can more effectively introduce concepts like asynchronous work, ‘no meeting Fridays’ or even a 4 day workweek , then measure the effects on your distributed teamwork.
Digital-first companies need to get serious about rethinking the ways they work. Reduce distractions and maximize your remote team’s productivity with the help of usage insights and analytics.