In an ideal world, your remote team would sit down for a full workday and engage in total focus work. But you don’t live in a perfect world, and neither does your team. You know that despite their effort, they’re regularly distracted.
Without visibility into their workflow, you can only assume where their time is lost. Sure, you can continue pressuring your team to hit goals by repeating motivational quotes and counting down to the deadline. But this approach ignores the bigger problem and wears everyone down.
The cost of distractions for remote teams
There is a direct connection between distraction at work and productivity. Every minute your team spends focusing attention and energy on something unproductive has a cost.
Wasted time will be made up after work hours or lost completely. Expecting employees to work longer hours is a recipe for resentment, stress, and burnout. However, failing to hit milestones can mean disaster for your organization.
Common distractions for remote workers
Life is full of interruptions: your kids want attention, an old friend calls, or a knock on the door, to name a few. We can mute our phones and lock ourselves away while we work, but another culprit is internal. Organizational workflow, communication, technology utilization, and employees themselves can cause distractions.
Before we can eliminate work distractions, we must identify them:
Notifications: Whether it’s being interrupted by a message on Slack or receiving a social media notification, workers are constantly interrupted by the pings of updates. Each time a notification pulls an employee away from their work, it could take them 23 minutes to regain their focus due to context switching.
Emails: A lot has changed for knowledge workers. But emails remain. The average worker checks their email 36 times an hour. Now, consider all that time spent reading unproductive emails, deleting spam, and refocusing on a task after responding. This equates to thousands of dollars lost in terms of each employee’s productivity.
Meetings: According to Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Webex , remote employees attended three more meetings per week on average in 2022 compared to 2020. While we cannot glean the context of each meeting, we do know that many additional meetings are scheduled one-on-ones. At any moment, a colleague can request a meeting, and workers feel pressured to attend. Ineffective meetings are costing companies $37 billion every year in salaries.
Employee saying “Yes”: Distractions don’t come in a giant wave. Rather, they are tiny drops that add up over time. When motivated employees are compelled to take on more responsibilities, they feel helpful at first, but soon they will become overwhelmed. Employees need to start saying “no” to all those emails and meetings instead of “yes.”
Address the real problem
As we said, many distractions in a workday are work-related. The solution isn't to block social media platforms or monitor your team's keystrokes. Rather, the key is to understand the real problems: work patterns, communication, and the apps that undermine productivity.
When we aren’t sure what changes to our process are working, we revert to the old way of doing things (monitoring, status updates, and other Draconian methods). That is why it’s important to audit the current workflow, adjust with actual data in mind—not just opinions—and then analyze whether the changes were effective.
Here’s where to start:
1. Gain visibility and promote team awareness
Wouldn’t it be great to know what your team is working on—and how efficiently they’re working—without long meetings or disruptive status updates?
Before you make assumptions about how your team is working, get the facts straight.
Digital work analytics show the effectiveness of how your team is working versus how long they are actively online. Before implementing any changes, understand your team’s work style and what is pulling them away from work. Is it a meeting? Or a specific tool?
Produce8 helps digital-first teams gain transparency in their work by letting the apps they use automatically share updates.
2. Set clear goals
Setting goals for your remote team will allow you to cut back on communication. You will empower workers to own what they are working on and be accountable for their results—regardless of the outcome.
A goal isn’t some pie-in-the-sky task. It’s a plan with defined scope and resources. Align company goals with your team’s capabilities. Ensure your workers understand how their tasks will impact bigger company objectives. Doing so will help them stay focused on their priorities. Also, establish key performance indicators that you will use to evaluate their performance.
Now that they are aware of the objectives, they can determine the best approach for accomplishing them.
3. Address communication collectively
Communication is critical to your team’s success. Still, too much time spent discussing tasks instead of working on them leads to increased stress, unnecessary mistakes, and missed deadlines.
Once you can assess your team’s workflow, you can better understand key communication touchpoints. Are they lasting too long? Are they leaving the team with the information they need? Or are they unclear and overwhelming your team?
Remote teams must communicate efficiently. Meetings and messaging aren’t the only way to communicate. Discussion can happen directly in the work process, such as comments in Google Docs or within individual tasks in Notion.
Fixing the work-from-home distraction problem means building a workflow where each team member has a say in the collaborative process. To achieve this, the whole team needs to be involved—not just management and HR.
4. Experiment with new approaches
Every team, employee, and project is different. So, like the coach of a sports team, you must adjust your game plan accordingly. Flexibility is your advantage as the leader of a distributed team.
Follow the three steps above, and you will be well-equipped to explore these different work styles. By keeping an eye on your team’s work patterns, setting clear goals, and building a culture of trust and transparency, you’ll be on your way to reducing remote work distractions.
Here are four different work styles you can test. See which enables your team to work best without distractions:
Asynchronous work: By implementing asynchronous work , each team member can choose when to do the bulk of their work. Async work is great for team members who operate more effectively outside the traditional 9-5 workflow.
Mute notifications: 54% of workers feel pressured to be constantly available, which can lead to responding to every notification promptly. If the team can agree to mute notifications, workers feel permitted to ignore messages while working. Try muting notifications on Slack for a few weeks and see how it increases productivity and reduces stress.
No-meeting Fridays: Wouldn’t it be great to have one day a week without any meetings? Dedicate Friday—or any day that works for your team—as a no-meeting day. Then encourage your team to use that time for focused work.
Four-day workweek: If you want to incentivize your employees to stay focused during work hours, offer a four-day workweek . Should they hit their goals—which are clearly defined—they should reap the benefits of a long weekend.
Check in during the week to see if there are any challenges. The team can then decide whether the pressure to get work done in four days instead of five is appropriate or if a five-day workweek still makes the most sense.
5. Use digital work analytics to measure impact
There are a lot of opinions and preconceptions regarding how to reduce distractions. But at the end of the day, nothing beats data when defining what’s broken and whether the fix worked. Produce8 connects with all your team’s work tools and shares relevant information. In doing so, we demystify any bias and help make effective changes for your team.
Once you can see your team’s work patterns and app usage, then you can evaluate where improvements can be made.
Interruptions come in many forms. While you cannot prevent all of them, you can reduce work-related distractions. There is no one formula that will prevent distraction for every team. Explore different work styles together and make sure you understand what each worker needs.