Read Forrester’s People Analytics Landscape Report –  Download now →

Home / Blog / 7 Distractions in the Workplace and How to Manage Them

7 Distractions in the Workplace and How to Manage Them

Understand the impact of distractions on productivity. We’ll talk about common distractions in the workplace and ways you can manage them.


By ActivTrak

A note card with the words “is this meeting really necessary?” because meetings are common distractions in the workplace.

Distractions are hard to avoid at work – whether your employees come into an office or work remotely. But distractions undermine productivity and hinder office goals. From digital interruptions to physical disturbances, the modern workplace is filled with obstacles that can pull employees away from their tasks and impede their focus. 

As a manager, business owner or leader, it’s important to understand the impact of distractions on productivity and find ways to minimize them for your staff. In this post, we’ll talk about common workplace distractions and ways you can manage them. 

The impact of workplace distractions on productivity

It’s no secret distractions have a significant negative impact on productivity. Being distracted affects your ability to focus, increasing the amount of time it takes to complete work and reducing your ability to be productive.

Employees who are distracted also know they aren’t performing at their best. In Udemy’s 2018 Workplace Distraction Report, employees reported that distractions in the workplace:

  • Keep them from performing as well as they should (54%)
  • Make them significantly less productive (50%)
  • Keep them from being able to advance in their career (20%)

The science behind why distractions are so bad for workplace productivity is insightful.

  • Studies have shown it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back on track after being distracted.
  • Distractions can increase stress levels and decrease job satisfaction.
  • Multitasking is actually a reaction to distractions – not a gift for our productivity – and slows us down while making us more prone to mistakes. 

Reducing workplace distractions should be at the top of any manager’s list to increase productivity and help employees stay focused. Recognizing how distractions can impact your employees is the first step towards developing effective strategies to combat them. 

7 common workplace distractions + how to manage them

It’s important to identify the most common distractions employees face in the workplace before implementing management strategies. These can differ between workplaces – for instance, employees who work from home are more likely to be distracted by family members than by chatty coworkers. Nevertheless, by pinpointing the distractions in your workplace, you can come up with targeted approaches to manage their effects and create a more focused work environment. 

1. Interruptions from other people

Whether it’s the coworker who stops by your cubicle to ask a question or a child who needs help with their homework, other people can be a major distraction in the workplace. While it’s important to talk to other people to build rapport, and we can’t avoid our responsibilities at home, these interruptions can keep us from performing our best. 

Management strategy: Being direct with chatty colleagues about their impact can help lessen their ability to distract. Encourage employees to close their office doors, work in a designated quiet area or put on headphones to signal they can’t chat to reduce interruptions from others when they need to concentrate. 

For employees who work from home, help them find resources to reduce the likelihood of distractions from other household members, whether that’s by sharing childcare duties with another adult or by working from another location during certain times. ActivTrak’s Location Insights shows you productivity by location, helping you understand if employees are more productive at home or in the office. This gives you the opportunity to help employees find the best place to work and back up your policies with data. 

2. Digital notifications

Constant pings from email, direct messaging and other apps can easily pull us out of our flow states. If we feel we have to respond to every message, it can be difficult to concentrate on work. Most office workers receive a constant stream of emails, and it can be difficult to determine which ones need a response now and which ones can wait until later.

Management strategies: One excellent way to help employees manage notifications is to encourage them to put on “do not disturb” mode during work hours. Time blocking, or setting aside a set amount of time to work on a task, can help employees turn off other distractions and focus solely on the task at hand. 

They can also time block 30 minutes for email responses and wait until the end of the day to address them. Setting boundaries around their work hours also helps other employees or friends and family predict when they’re available and limit distracting them during those times. 

You can also equip employees with data on which websites are distracting them, such as personal insights provided by ActivTrak. This helps employees see when they’re most able to focus during the day so they can schedule other activities around those productive hours, or which distractions they need to eliminate to help them complete tasks more efficiently. 

3. Personal phone usage

Did you know the average person checks their smartphone 47 times a day? That equates to six times an hour if you’re at work for eight hours. Whether it’s personal messages, social media or internet shopping, personal devices like cell phones and tablets can be major distractions in the workplace. 

Management strategies: Some workplaces have strict policies regarding personal device usage, especially if the work they do is sensitive, such as in finance, healthcare or defense. But most employees would prefer to have access to their phones throughout the day. 

To mitigate the level of distraction, you can encourage employees to use do not disturb modes during work hours or to put their phones away and on silent mode. Once again, teaching time blocking is a great way to help employees set times when they’ll focus and other times when they can use their cell phones. 

4. Ambient noise

The noise in our workplaces can cause distractions. If you work in an open-plan office, you may find that conversations from other employees or even their typing can distract you from your work. Research shows a majority of employees (85%) have trouble concentrating in their work environment, but that less than half (41%) have a private space to work. 

Management strategies: It would be great if we could give every employee their own office so they could close the door and control noise levels. Most office layouts don’t allow for this anymore, and even employees who work from home may not have a private space where they can cut down on ambient noise. 

If you can, set up a quiet room where employees can go to concentrate. Conversely, you can set up noise rooms such as phone booths where employees can go to have huddles or take phone calls without distracting others in the office space. 

You may encourage a quiet policy except in certain spaces like lunchrooms or break rooms as well. Other ways to mitigate the noise issue are to encourage employees to wear noise-canceling headphones or work from another location, such as a library. 

5. Meetings

Meetings provide employees with a valuable opportunity to collaborate  or communicate about tasks effectively. But unnecessary or unproductive meetings eat up time that could be spent on more productive tasks. According to research by Atlassian, the average employee attends 62 meetings a month and finds that half of those were a waste of time, with nine out of 10 employees admitting they spend these meetings daydreaming and nearly 4 out of 10 saying they tend to fall asleep. Two-thirds of employees do other work during boring meetings, especially if those meetings are video calls. 

Management strategies: First, encourage your staff members to limit the number of meetings they schedule. Then, make sure they only include other members of staff who need to be in the meeting. Anyone who calls a meeting should provide an agenda and goals for the meeting so that attendees know what to expect and what they’ll get out of it. 

Some workplaces block certain times of day off so employees can’t schedule meetings during those times, such as Monday mornings or Thursday afternoons. This allows everyone in the workplace to focus on work they need to perform without having to interrupt their concentration to go to a meeting. 

ActivTrak can help your organization determine just how much time employees spend in meetings and when the best time to schedule meetings may be. Meeting insights give you data on when employee meetings are scheduled, how much time employees spend in meetings vs working and how employees spend their days working overall. 

6. Competing priorities or deadlines

Giving employees too many assignments can be another form of distraction, as it requires them to jump from task to task which breaks concentration. The issue can also create stress if assignments are given by several people with the label of “top priority”, as employees may struggle to decide which project should be done first. In some cases, employees may feel pressure to do everything, which can lead to overworking that’s detrimental to their health and productivity.

Management solution: Managers should be aware of each employee’s current workload and how they’re assigned tasks to ensure they aren’t frequently distracted or overburdened with new requests. Using workload management software like ActivTrak can help leadership gain insight into how much work individual employees take on. Additionally, managers should discuss workloads in employee syncs to check how they’re doing and see if there’s a need to reduce the workload or shift deadlines.

7. Visual distractions

Clutter can negatively impact on our ability to think and focus on the tasks at hand. If our desks pile up with paperwork, files or last week’s lunch, we can start to feel stressed out, whether we recognize it or not. Often the clutter on our desks is deprioritized work that we can put off until later, like filing or expenses. But it’s easy for items that need to be addressed to get lost in those piles and forgotten, leading to even more lost time. 

Management strategies: Start a trend of weekly desk cleaning. Set aside half an hour on Friday afternoons where employees are encouraged to handle their filing, submit expense reports or address the clutter on their workspace so they can come back Monday morning to a clean slate. If everyone in the office is required to do it, no one will feel strange for being the only staff member addressing it. 

Identify and manage workplace distractions with ActivTrak

Leverage ActivTrak’s workforce analytics solution to pinpoint distractions and stop them in their tracks. Get real-time activity reports to see when and where employees are most productive and what distractions may be hampering them, such as non-work-related websites or social media. 

Empower employees to create their schedules around their most productive work hours based on actual data and gain insight into which employees may need help. Use Personal Insights reports to show employees how they divide their time between focused work, collaborating and multitasking. Uncover how much time employees spend in meetings and when the best time for meetings may be to allow them to spend their best hours focusing on their work. 

Reduce the risk of burnout with wellness metrics, such as utilization level by week to surface workload balance issues. Use the Work Habits data to help employees establish time for breaks to avoid fatigue. Help employees understand not just how many hours they work, but how efficiently they’re working during those hours with Productivity Efficiency. 

Get a free demo of ActivTrak to find out how it can decrease the impact of workplace distractions in your organization today. 

Share this article

Getting started is easy. Be up and running in minutes.