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5 Common Workplace Disruptions and How to Overcome Them

Lively work atmospheres can be a breeding ground for disruptions. Discover five of the most common workplace disruptions and strategies to overcome them.


By ActivTrak

Woman whispering on a phone after being disrupted in a workplace meeting

Offices can be bustling environments full of constant activity and interactions. But this lively atmosphere can also be a breeding ground for disruptions that can hinder productivity and increase employee stress levels. With the rise in popularity of open offices, these disruptions can be even harder to avoid. 

In this post, we’ll share five of the most common workplace disruptions and strategies to overcome them.

What is a workplace disruption?

Workplace disruptions are any events or behaviors interrupting or diverting our attention away from our primary tasks. These range from minor disturbances to major time wasters, all of which have the potential to negatively impact productivity and overall job satisfaction. 

Workplace disruptions can take many forms and have various effects on the work environment. It’s essential to recognize and address these disruptions to maintain a productive and harmonious workplace.

Disruptions vs distractions

Workplace disruptions can manifest in various forms, including interruptions and unexpected events. Interruptions such as constant phone calls, impromptu meetings and chat prompts from colleagues can disrupt employees’ workflows and break their concentration. A disruption occurs when an outside force or event actively interrupts you. Common disruptions may be caused by colleagues seeking assistance, urgent tasks pushed to the front of the to-do list or personal matters that require immediate attention.

Distractions, on the other hand, are caused by an internal reaction to draw us away from what we’re supposed to concentrate on. Distractions may include noisy colleagues, an overloaded work schedule that creates extra stress or an internal desire to get away from work by seeing what’s happening on social media.

While distractions can be managed by learning to ignore the brain’s draw toward them or by other choices such as turning off notifications or even closing the door, disruptions are forced upon employees by external factors and are more difficult to control. Both distractions and disruptions can divert employee attention and make it challenging to stay on track with work. They can also lead to increased stress levels and decreased job satisfaction. 

The impact of disruptions on productivity

Beyond the temporary frustration an employee may feel from having their workflow interrupted, there are notable consequences of workplace disruptions. Studies have shown that constant interruptions can lead to a significant decrease in productivity. According to recent surveys:

  • The average worker is interrupted 15 times for every hour they work, which would amount to an interruption every four minutes 
  • 40% of knowledge workers can’t find a continuous 30-minute period to focus during their day 
  • Interruptions by colleagues cost the average worker five hours of productive time every week
  • It takes an average of 23 minutes for a worker to refocus on their work after being interrupted, regardless of how important or urgent the disruption was

All of this time spent on managing interruptions and not working can result in significant delays, missed deadlines, lower-quality work and increased stress. Furthermore, the negative effects of these workplace disruptions can extend beyond individual employees. When one person’s productivity is affected, it can create a ripple effect throughout the entire team or organization. 

5 common workplace disruptions and how to overcome them

It’s important for organizations to recognize the impact of workplace disruptions and take proactive measures to minimize their occurrence. By addressing disruptions and creating a supportive work environment, companies can enhance productivity, job satisfaction, and overall success.

Below are five of the most common workplace disruptions and solutions to overcome them.

1. Interruptions from colleagues

One of the main sources of workplace disruptions is interruptions from well-meaning colleagues. While collaboration and teamwork are essential to organizational success, constant interruptions from emails, phone calls, collaboration tools or a quick knock on the cubicle can make it difficult for employees to focus on individual tasks. 

Solution: To minimize interruptions from colleagues for your employees, it’s important to provide employees with ways to set and keep firm boundaries on their availability. Encourage employees to set regular “quiet hours” when they can focus on their work and won’t be available to their colleagues. It’s a good idea to empower employees to schedule blocks of time on their calendars so that other employees can’t schedule meetings or expect to contact them during those times. You can also create company-wide quiet hours (e.g. Thursday afternoons) when all employees know they can work in peace without disruptions.

Technology can be a blessing and a curse, allowing us to work and collaborate in new ways while also providing us with several disruptions. Constant email notifications and alerts can disrupt workflows quickly if employees don’t have a way to shut out some of the noise throughout the day.

Solution: Encourage employees to silence notifications from apps and other technology when they work so they can do so without interruptions. Some phones and apps will automatically turn on a “do not disturb” function based on the user’s set hours or calendar events. Employees can also manage notifications to ensure they only get important ones or turn them off altogether so they only see updates when they actively look at email, social media or project management apps. It’s a good idea for employees to schedule time specifically meant for checking email or other apps and limit their access during other times. 

3. Unplanned meetings and events

An unplanned meeting or event can disrupt schedules and throw off an employee’s whole day. While some meetings are essential, it’s important to distinguish between necessary gatherings and those that can be addressed through emails or instant messages. And while some unplanned meetings may come up due to emergencies and unforeseen events, employers should give employees as much advanced notice as possible for company-wide meetings or announcements.

Solution: Establish clear guidelines on meetings, including when they can be scheduled, what merits a meeting, who needs to go to meetings and what is required to hold a meeting, such as a clear agenda with deliverables. Give employees enough time to prepare for meetings when you can, scheduling them on calendars at least a few days in advance so that employees can schedule their work time around them. 

4. Physical disruptions

Because offices are physical locations that require upkeep, workplaces may often face disruptions from construction or maintenance. These disruptions can come from blocked access or changes to the workplace environment such as lighting or temperature that make it hard to work in. Employees may need to move to a different part of the office during construction, which can disrupt their habits beyond moving day.

Solution: Ensure employees are well-prepared for any physical changes to the workplace and plan for necessary accommodations well in advance. If you don’t already have a flexible work policy, these instances are a good reason to develop one. Allow employees who can work from home to do so or other locations as necessary and empower them with the right tools. This will also come in handy if emergencies arise, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, which sent employees to work from home for several months. Employers who already had work-from-home arrangements in place were able to keep going without missing a beat while others were scrambling to get their employees back to work. 

5. Disruptions from personal issues

Disruptions from an employee’s personal life may be impossible to predict, as emergencies can arise without warning. Taking care of family members or personal matters, especially children, is an important part of life, and employees can’t leave their personal lives entirely behind when they’re at work. Additionally, employees may get sick from time to time and will need to take time off work to recover. 

Solution: Provide employees with clear policies on taking personal time away from work so they can do so with minimal disruption. Flexible work arrangements and personal leave time can help employees take care of issues as they arise. You should also have leadership teams devise clear strategies for delegating work to other teams or employees if an employee faces an emergency so that work is covered and no one is left wondering who is responsible.

Identify and overcome workplace disruptions with ActivTrak

Get insight into what is disrupting your team’s work with ActivTrak’s Workforce Analytics solution. Quickly see if any employees are dealing with disruptions affecting their productivity. Determine which technology helps employees or hinders their productivity. Make informed decisions on policies with real-time data on employee productivity, including when and where they’re most productive and when they may be distracted. 

Get a free demo of ActivTrak to see how we can help you identify and overcome workplace disruptions at your organization. 

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