How to keep your workers focused on work (and not their phones)

How to keep your workers focused on work (and not their phones)

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How to keep your workers focused on work (and not their phones)

The smartphone is arguably one of the best and worst technological advancements in recent years. Thanks to the smartphone, people have quick access to information and apps that make their lives easier. But these devices are also an addictive productivity-killer.

In a 2016 CareerBuilder survey of more than 3,000 employees, 82 percent of respondents said they keep their smartphones within eyeshot while working. Understandably, that degree of proximity contributed to 55 percent of respondents also calling cellphones and texting the biggest distraction in the office.

But that problem won’t change: Too many companies now use mobile apps as part of their day-to-day operations. And that means that most employers simply can’t ban smartphones from the office. However, they can teach employees to be more accountable when it comes to cellphone use.

Here are four ways to help employees stay focused on their work instead of their smartphones:

1. Emphasize accountability in the hiring process.

The key to helping employees resist the temptation their phone presents is accountability. A manager can’t — and shouldn’t — be hovering over them all the time to make sure they’re working on what they’re supposed to be working on. Employees simply need to judge what is an appropriate time to check their phones, and what isn’t.

To help them form that judgment, build accountability into the company culture through the hiring process. Screen job-seekers for characteristics that show they can keep their smartphone usage in check. For example, during the interview process, ask candidates how they manage their time. Questions about how they prioritize tasks and how long it takes them to complete certain tasks will show if they can stay focused or easily veer off track.

Also, rethink the traditional “biggest weakness” question. The answer to that can provide a lot of information, but one thing people forget to consider is what it says about accountability. A potential employee who owns up to his or her weaknesses or flaws and shows a conscious effort to overcome them is likely to be more disciplined.

Tie accountability into your quality of hiring metrics and over time you’ll find easier to recognize candidates who are better at staying productive.

2. Remind employees to take breaks.

In many cases, employees glance over at their phones simply because they need a break. And that’s a good thing: They need a moment to rest their brain and step away from whatever it is they’ve been working on.

However, they don’t always feel comfortable taking an obvious moment to refocus because they’re worried their boss will think they’re lazy. So, instead of getting up and moving around for a few minutes, they’ll sneak a look at their phone and get sucked into all the distractions it has to offer.

A 2016 Staples Business Advantage Survey of more than 3,100 employees found that 52 percent of respondents thought that being encouraged by their employer to take breaks throughout the day would keep them from getting burnt out at work. So, let employees know that it’s acceptable to take time to recharge. Set times throughout the day when everyone gets up and walks around the office for a bit.

Other options are to have short activities an employee can do when their brains are getting tired. For example, provide adult coloring books or puzzles in the break room. When employees need a minute away from their desks, they can engage another part of the brain. Even if they last for only a few minutes, those brief breaks will do wonders for productivity.

3. Provide feedback on work priorities.

Sometimes, employees turn to their phones because they’re not sure what else to do. Maybe they’re stuck on a problem or unsure where to start with their task list, so they get distracted by whatever notification just popped up on their phone.

Give employees more direction by helping them set goals for themselves. A 2015 Gallup survey of 27 million employees found that of the employees who felt strongly that their managers helped them set work priorities, 66 percent were engaged.

Be specific about your workplace objectives. Setting a deadline for a large project is not enough. Break down big goals into small achievable steps. That way, instead of feeling overwhelmed by where to begin, employees can stay motivated and focused on the work they do.

4. Recognize hard work.

Incessant cell phone use can also be a sign of apathy in the workplace. If a formerly productive employee now spends a large part of the day on his or her phone, it’s likely that this individual feels no incentive to do the work. And that’s a reflection of poor recognition within the organization.

In a 2016 Society for Human Resource Management survey of 600 U.S. employees, 48 percent of employees said management’s recognition of their job performance was very important to their job satisfaction. However, only 26 percent of respondents were satisfied with how they were acknowledged.

If employees’ hard work isn’t being recognized, they have no reason not to spend time on their phone. Their productivity will go unnoticed and unappreciated, so why not play games on those phones instead?

Make sure employees feel appreciated, even for the little things. Whether it’s through a formal or informal recognition program, be sure managers are taking the time to acknowledge their team. Small things like company newsletters or social media posts that profile different employees are a great place to start.

Overall, smartphones are a part of life now. They’re going to be in the office, and employees are going to check them from time to time. But that doesn’t mean they can’t learn the skills necessary to have control over their own productivity.


How can I keep my employees from using their phones.

– Tim Shanahan, Chef/Owner, Shanahan’s, Forest Park, Ill.


While my editors reserve the right to edit your question, I hope they leave in your nine question marks, as it both represents an Advice Guy record and underscores your exasperation. Fighting phone addiction is something I’m struggling with at school, work, and especially at home as the father of teenagers. And I know I’m an offender as well.

Your question also reminds me that, for the first time in my history, a friend and I left our neighborhood bar after only one round of drinks. It was not for lack of trying. It was a slow night and the two bartenders were both preoccupied with their devices and didn’t notice our empty glasses and thirsty glances. Sure, we could have gotten their attention, but to do so seems at odds with the very nature of hospitality. We left cash and walked out without so much as a thank you from them. A painful missed revenue opportunity.

When I addressed this problem in the past (in 2011), it was more about crafting a policy that can help you manage employees’ cellphone usage to an appropriate/responsible level, especially during service. Increasingly, my advice is a straight-up ban: no cellphones back of house, front of house, anywhere at work, except during official breaks. This will not be a popular policy: “What if my kid’s school calls?” “I’m expecting a call from my doctor.” I get it, but I also remember a time when people were unreachable during work hours, except in an emergency, in which case they could of course call the place of business and ask to speak with the employee. Your job is to make money providing great food and beverage to your guests and putting their experience at the fore. I don’t see how that is compatible with employee cellphone use.

Provide a secure place, even charging lockers, for employees to leave their devices. Some employees may argue that as long as they get their work done and guests don’t notice, they can keep up with texts and notifications. I think that’s the wrong way to look at it—if they can keep up in that way, they can be cleaning, helping co-workers, or taking on more responsibilities.

How to keep your workers focused on work (and not their phones)

You finally have your dream team together. Everyone on your vision board is now sitting in your new office and you are ready to crush all 578 of your immediate and big picture goals. With a team of this much perfection, you have a feeling those big picture items will feel not-so-big after all.

Wait, but what’s that? Is that your graphic designer on her phone? And hold on, why do you keep seeing your marketing director watch Facebook videos every 15 minutes? They can’t possibly have time for any of that.

Next thing you know, you’re freaking out over how much you’re paying them vs. what they’re spending their time doing and then you suddenly become the world’s greatest micromanager. Yikes.

Although studies say that truly productive employees should and need to take breaks, it seems counterintuitive that breaks should be this distracting and frequent.

How much is too much? When do you step in and say something?

It’s as simple as this: when deadlines are not being met.

Admit it — we all get distracted. Breaking news, group texts, and Instagram notifications all catch our eye at a moment’s unscheduled notice and sometimes we just have to give in. Your employees are the same.

It becomes an issue when they are dilly-dallying more than they are responding to your emails and it turns into a red flag when they are missing crucial deadlines.

If it starts as a mini-issue, address it in an all-hands meeting without pointing out specific culprits. Simply mention that you’ve noticed that there are a lot of distractions happening during the workday and even though you want your employees to have fun and take breaks, there are to-do’s that need to be crossed off faster than they currently are. Plus, the domino effect of an employee getting distracted and affecting their co-workers could lead to more issues and reduced productivity.

When it becomes a bigger issue, as in work not being turned in on time or aloofness during meetings, take people in for a one-on-one. Tell them exactly what you are observing and the direct results from those observations. At the end of the day, if they’re not getting their work done, it is means for termination — and no one wants that.

Remember, make these expectations clear with your team from the get-go. Assign projects with specific deadlines and from there, give them the benefit of the doubt if you catch them in a texting storm, so long as their still turning in quality and on-time work.

How to keep your workers focused on work (and not their phones)

Welcome to the new normal. As we hobble toward economic recovery, the work environment remains anxious and uncertain. Employees may be grateful for their paychecks, but numerous studies reveal what most leaders already know anecdotally: that a great many workers are disengaged and even hate their jobs. I call them the walking dead, those employees who show up for work with their bodies but leave their brains, and their souls, at home.

In the old days leaders typically rallied the troops by painting a picture of a glorious, prosperous future, garlanded with bonuses, perks and advancement. How do you get people excited about their jobs today when you’re utterly uncertain about tomorrow?

It can be done, and it’s actually not that complicated.

We all have three basic human needs: We need to be connected to other people, we need to know that our work matters, and we need leaders who respond to those first two needs when times are tough. Fortunately, meeting these three intrinsic needs needn’t cost your organization a dime. And it’s something you can do every single day, no matter how uncertain the environment.

Here’s how anyone can tap into the big three human needs to help their organization stay productive, engaged and, dare I say it, happy during times of angst and uncertainty:

1. Connection: Get emotional. Whenever I start to talk about emotions in the workplace, executives get uneasy. But have you ever noticed that you never hear managers saying, “Please don’t get so excited” or “Please quit being so happy”? The reality is that emotions are at the center of everything we do. The leadership challenge isn’t to avoid them. It’s to ignite the positive ones.

The secret of getting people more engaged in their work is for their leaders to become more engaged with them. That means being willing to show up emotionally as well as intellectually. What would happen if you walked in one day, looked one of your employees in the eye and told him or her, “I’m so grateful you’re on our team, and it’s not just about the work; it’s also about how much you as a person add to this place. I love having you here”? It sounds hokey, but every time I suggest this in a workshop or presentation, people’s eyes fill with tears. Human connection isn’t a nice thing to have; it’s a must-have. Meaningful connections provide people with the internal fortitude they need to stay productive during tough times.

You want to be connected to your people, and you also want them to be connected to one another. The way you do that is by talking, with real spoken words, not e-mail edicts, asking people how they’re doing and actually listening to their answers, and by providing them with opportunities to interact with one another.

2. Meaning: Provide Context. We all want to know that we make a difference in the world. When you put someone’s work into a meaningful context, you tap into the deepest yearning of his or her soul. The challenge is that most people’s days are so hectic and their jobs so compartmentalized that they often miss the larger story of how their work touches the lives of others. Leaders who reframe daily tasks by providing personal context quell the angst of uncertainty by giving their employees something more meaningful to think about.

A guy who makes widgets may do a pretty good job of quality control. But if his boss holds a team meeting every Monday morning and shares stories about people who bought the widgets and how their lives were made better, more fun, more interesting, safer or easier as a result, that imagery is going to stick. The person responsible for stamping out part 357A will know that his work counts for something more than a production number.

The key here is to make it personal. It’s easy to say, “Our company provides products that make organizations more efficient,” but that’s hardly a reason for someone to go the extra mile. If you tell a story about a real live human being who has been affected by your team’s work, be it a co-worker, end user or other customer, people will take more pride–and become more engaged–in their work.

3. Leadership: Apply Daily. It would be nice if we all went through our days feeling certain that we were beloved by our families and co-workers and that our work made a real difference in people’s lives. But unfortunately angst and worry are often the standard default setting for the human brain. When we’re left at the mercy of our own perceptions, our jobs can descend into an endless series of meaningless to-dos. That’s why one of the essential roles of a leader is to continually elevate the conversation and to remind people that their work and their lives matter.

It’s like being part of a family. Your spouse may have told you he or she loved you on the day you got married. But when life gets hard and you feel insecure, you need to hear those words more often, sometimes daily. Employees sometimes act as if they don’t care, but perhaps that’s only because their leaders don’t give them anything important to care about. Revenue objectives, market share targets and numbers on an annual report are fine goals. But the secret of true emotional engagement is to get beyond the numbers and make it all feel personal.

Intimacy and ultimacy are the two universal human quests. Our deepest desire is to have close personal relationships while we’re on this planet and to make a contribution that will last when we’re not. Leaders who actively reinforce and nurture these core desires engage people on a level that transcends money and market conditions. People are eager to be part of something bigger than themselves. In fact, when deprived of the chance to do so, they grow desperate for it. Leaders who connect on an emotional level and provide their people with meaningful context can ignite a passion that transcends uncertainty.

People who are connected to one another and have a sense of personal mission about their work can do practically anything, whatever the conditions. Great leaders are people who are willing to show up for work with their mind, body and soul–and thereby create a culture where everyone else does the same.

Lisa Earle McLeod is the founder and principal of McLeod & More, which specializes in sales and leadership training. Her newest book is The Triangle of Truth: The Surprisingly Simple Secret to Resolving Conflicts Large and Small.

Smartphones, the internet, social media and emails are among the 10 biggest workplace productivity killers.

  • There are many workplace distractions that negatively impact employees.
  • Smartphones, the internet, social media and emails are among the 10 biggest workplace productivity killers, according to a study by CareerBuilder.
  • There are ways to encourage productivity at work, including taking timed breaks, working close to productive co-workers and being publicly accountable.

Technology boosts your productivity in some ways, but it hurts it in other ways, according the findings a study conducted in 2015 by CareerBuilder.

The study cited smartphones, the internet, social media and email as the primary workplace productivity killers. Specifically, more than half of the employers surveyed say the biggest distraction at work came from employees using their cell phones, while 44% said the same about employees using the internet.

However, technology can’t take all the blame for preventing employees from getting their work done. The study revealed that 37% of employers pointed to office gossip, while 27% pointed to co-workers stopping by to chat as their biggest productivity killers.

The employers who were surveyed cited the following distractions:

  1. Cellphones/texting
  2. The internet
  3. Gossip
  4. Social media
  5. Email
  6. Co-workers dropping by
  7. Meetings
  8. Smoke/snack breaks
  9. Noisy co-workers
  10. Sitting in a cubicle

“Between the internet, cellphones and co-workers, there are so many stimulants in today’s workplace; it’s easy to see how employees get sidetracked,” Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer of CareerBuilder, said in a statement.

Other workplace distractionsВ

The study also points to clutter as an inhibitor of workplace productivity. A messy workplace can impact the focus of an employee, which limits their ability to process information. Confusion and disorder are difficult to manage while trying to work, preventing employees from focusing on their current task. This usually causes an employee to feel stress and anxiety.

To combat distractions due to clutter, employees should get rid of items that are no longer needed. They should also organize papers in appropriate folders and files, or, better yet, use electronic storage methods. Document management solutions eliminate the need for physical copies while still maintaining an electronic copy of important files and documents. Electronic methods also eliminate the need for additional physical storage, such as filing cabinets, which take up space as well. В [Looking for a document management solution for your office? Read our reviews of the best document management software solutions.]

This distraction may be a bit surprising to you, but hunger can make it nearly impossible to focus. An employer should ensure their employees take breaks and have regular lunches. It might seem more productive to work through lunch and keep plugging away at work, but that is not the case. When an employee ignores their needs, they are less likely to focus on work.

How do distractions affect productivity?В

Even the smallest distractions can cause employees to take longer to complete a task. Not only does it extend the length of time it takes to complete tasks, but it can decrease the quality of their work.

When an employee is distracted, they must then shift their attention back to the task at hand.В When employees experience decreased productivity, they can feel discouraged, which, in turn, can negatively impact productivity further. В

Employees and managers may not be talking about the distractions that come up during the work day, but they should. By not addressing distractions in the workplace, and what can be done to reduce those interruptions, tension and resentment can build in the workplace, which can spill over, negatively impacting relationships between co-workers and the company’s overall culture.

Recognizing the difficulties that distractions can cause, nearly three-quarters of employers have taken at least one step to alleviate the problem. Some have instituted policies that include blocking certain websites, banning personal calls and cellphone use, instituting set lunch and break times, monitoring email and internet use, and limiting meetings, while other employers have adopted an open-space layout instead of cubicles and policies that allow employees to telecommute certain days of the workweek.В

Employers don’t have to take drastic measures, though. One of the best ways to cultivate a culture of productivity in your office is for employees to take regular breaks, Haefner said.

“Taking breaks from work throughout the day can actually be good for productivity, enabling the mind to take a break from the job at hand and re-energize you,” Haefner said. “The trick is finding the right (work-appropriate) activities that promote, rather than deplete energy.”

Haefner offers a few tips for employers to create a workplace that will boost productivity:

    Schedule breaks. Encourage employees to take breaks during the day, but be sure they set a definite ending time. This not only gives them something to look forward to, but it lets them know when it’s time to get back to work.

Work near productive people. Productivity can be contagious. Seeing how co-workers stay productive can be an inspiration to others.

Be publicly accountable. If employees can’t seem to get motivated, try having them post their goals for the day on social media. Making themselves publicly accountable will help push them to get their work finished.

  • Take a walk. If workers are having trouble concentrating, have them step outside for a 10- or 20-minute walk. Previous research has shown that light exercise can rejuvenate the brain.
  • The study was based on surveys of 2,175 hiring and human resources managers across a variety of industries and company sizes.

    “My employees spend too much time on their personal cell phones during work hours. What can I do to get them to focus on their work instead?”

    My HR survival tip

    It seems everyone has a smart phone today and employees bringing them to work has been a challenge to business owners. Even though a cell phone is an employee’s personal property, you can control what happens at work.

    I’ve worked with several clients to help control the use of cell phones. Create a policy that will provide the solution you want. How far you push it depends on what issues you’ve had. Keep in mind that you can start light and get a little tougher if the problem isn’t resolved. No matter which of the following ideas you like, make sure your policy reminds employees that they can always check their voicemails and emails while on rest and meal breaks. Some ideas include:

    — Requiring employees to keep their cell phones muted and off their desk during work hours.

    — Requiring employees to completely turn off their cell phones while working.

    — Prohibiting employees from bringing their cell phones into the office.

    People are so hooked on their cell phones, you’ll notice the panic in their eyes when you tell them to put away the phone. Don’t let an employee scare you when they say you don’t have control over their personal cell phone. You do have control over the workspace, conduct during work hours, and what is brought into your facility.

    The other argument you’ll hear is that people need to be able to reach the employee in case of an emergency. The appropriate response is to remind them to give family members the company’s main number to call if there’s an emergency. Calling the company number worked in the pre-cell phone days and it still works.

    It’s your business. It’s time to take control of how your employees spend their work hours.

    What’s your opinion on employees and using cell phones in the workplace?

    By Team Localwise

    The key to a successful business means not only focusing on the customers’ needs but ensuring that their employees are well taken care of. Here are a few easy and effective solutions to help keep your employees happy and productive!

    1. Recognize their progress

    While giving constructive criticism helps guide people in the right direction, it’s great to also point out the good things your employees do. Acknowledge them individually and verbally show to them that you are aware of where they started and where they can possibly go to next.

    2. Plan team building activities unrelated to work

    While there are different positions in the workforce, it is important to gather the different areas in your business under one umbrella. Plan social gatherings or games for the crew to help build relationships.

    3. Trust your employees

    Delegate without micromanaging. Once you instill more trust, you both will learn. Start by giving employees more projects and in turn ask for their input on issues or ideas for the company.

    4. Offer, don’t assign responsibility

    Create a friendly competition amongst the office. This will get employees to step up to the plate and be productive while offering a chance for you to evaluate how others work. You may discover some work better in cooperative teams or as leaders.

    5. Make your employees part of the bigger picture

    Informing the team is key to running a successful business. In order to have great communication and trust, it’s great to talk about the company’s future and goals for the upcoming months or years. This will make them feel valued and demonstrate to them that their hard work is going towards something great for the company.

    6. Prioritize a good work/life balance

    As employers and employees, they all share the common aspect of learning to balance good work with a good life. Embrace the importance of work, but also understand the importance of maintaining a healthy life.

    7. Be receptive to employee preference

    While your business shifts and you notice areas that may need more help, it’s a great time to ask your staff their advice. Ask employees if they’d like to learn something new or improve their skills in a designated area. This helps motivate them to work harder and do the job well.

    8. Set clear goals

    Make sure to define the company’s goals in which employees can work together towards. While working together as a team permits productivity, it’s also great to hone in on them as individuals and help set personal goals.

    9. Celebrate both personal and team milestones

    As you set goals and track employees’ progress, it’s nice to take a step back from the work and see what everyone has accomplished. Make sure to celebrate the goals you all accomplished.

    10. Encourage breaks

    It’s important to work hard but also put value on rest periods. By allowing employees to take a breather, they’ll be more productive and come back to work with a focused mindset.

    11. Provide perks (without breaking the bank!)

    Make work into a type of game show! By setting up common or individual goals, propose creative employee perks such as free meals, casual dress Friday’s, or concert tickets.

    12. Don’t be afraid to switch it up

    As the business has a set regular schedule, it helps to add diverse routines throughout the day. Change the order of things or try to come up with a new way of approaching a common task. It doesn’t hurt to do something different!

    13. Offer mutual evaluations

    Whether you’re the head of the company or an employee, it’s important to have both sides evaluated. By working as a team, you can communicate to one another your concerns and ask for feedback. By doing so, it helps to create a sense of ownership.

    14. Support innovation, whether or not it works out

    A great way to include your staff in making an impact towards the company as a whole is to allow them to innovate.

    Try new methods and test run them together. By allowing this, the whole team can learn what works and what doesn’t. It helps them understand their challenges and encourages growth.

    15. Be consistent

    In order to let things run smoothly, make sure you’re consistent. While it’s great to connect with team members on a personal and relatable level, it is just as important to act as the boss with everyone.

    16. Take an interest in who your employees are

    While you may be busy with instructing employees on what to do next, it’s important to get to know them. Understanding employees as individuals is key to understanding what areas they excel in and how you can use those passions in your favor to help your business grow.

    17. Provide tools for success

    While policy may be the sole focus at first, remember to think of creative solutions. Instead of giving strict guidelines, try to allow problem-solving come into play. Create safe environments for employees to express their thoughts and ideas for the company.

    18. Respect staff time

    While the needs of your business may shift gears from time to time, it’s important to have a consistent schedule. Implementing scheduling tricks for the weekend shifts, for example, helps show you respect everyone’s time.

    19. Don’t keep score

    It’s important to not keep track of all of the good and bad results employees have produced. Remaining positive and reassuring a common goal to have everyone work towards is what is most helpful.

    20. Allow workplace flexibility

    While showing up to work on time and completing all tasks in a timely manner is important to keep a business flowing, it’s also great to show flexibility. If respect is shown at work, employers should respect that their employees have a life outside of work as well.

    21. Say “Thank You”

    Simply saying the words “Thank You” can go a long way. There is a sense of comfort and recognition that is felt when these words are heard.

    With companies all over the U.S. and the world mandating or encouraging remote work, here are ways to keep your employees getting critical work done.

    By: Sean Ludwig, Contributor

    There’s no doubt coronavirus (COVID-19) has drastically changed the business landscape in 2020, with more businesses than ever encouraging or requiring employees to work from home. While many employees already do some work remotely, many workers and managers are still trying to adjust to this paradigm shift.

    Working from home means more distractions, fewer ways to interact naturally with fellow employees, and more social isolation — all of which can lead to less productivity. To overcome these challenges, employers should explore new ways to manage and collaborate with employees and enable more ways for employees to connect with each other.

    Here are six ways you can keep your team productive while they are working from home or in the field.

    Equip your team with tech and productivity tools

    First and foremost, one of the most important ways to help teams succeed while working remotely is to get them tools to help them stay connected and productive. These include project management tracking apps such as Asana and Airtable, chat/messaging apps such as Slack and Microsoft Teams, and video conferencing apps such as Zoom and Google Hangouts.

    Equipping teams with these new technologies allows managers and employees all stay on the same page no matter where they are working from, whether it’s from home or waiting in a long line at the grocery store. These new apps might also help keep your team more productive and connected after COVID-19 fears lessen and people go back to work.

    Establish daily check-ins

    With managers no longer getting daily face time with employees and employees not being able to chat around the proverbial water cooler, creating a daily check-in routine is an important way to set priorities and foster connections. A morning check-in via video chat, phone call or instant message can create a sense of normalcy. These check-ins can be one-on-one or held among small groups.

    The tech and productivity tools mentioned above can be vital for revamping regular check-ins. For example, if you previously held a daily all-hands meeting in-person, you may want to use a video conferencing app to have a virtual version of the same meeting each morning. Revamped meetings that adapt specifically to remote workers can help you maintain productivity.

    Set virtual office hours and be present on instant messaging apps throughout the day to help employees.

    Event Recap: Mastering Leadership Skills

    Watch the replay from our latest Roadmap for Rebuilding event, where the panel discusses how to best manage employees and build cohesive teams.

    Encourage dedicated workspaces

    Many regular office workers have never needed dedicated workspace in their homes, but if they are now regularly working from home, managers should encourage the creation of home offices that are separate from communal space. In some cases, companies have even offered large stipends to help workers create appropriate, productive spaces for remote work.

    Dedicated workspaces can help free employees from the normal distractions from home life. With many parents needing to be at home with their children due to school closures, an office away from family can allow you to maintain focus and stay on task. Even if this office is a temporary makeshift space — such as a guest room, basement, attic or walk-in closet — this can help you mentally separate work from home.

    Provide emotional and steady support

    As working from home can contribute to loneliness and negative emotions, employers should do what they can to provide emotional support to employees. Leaders should set the tone for their virtual offices with a calm and upbeat presence, which helps create a level-headed workplace where people can still get things done.

    In a fully remote work setup, managers should also be more available than usual for check-ins and other questions that may come up given the unfamiliar circumstances. Set virtual office hours and be present on instant messaging apps throughout the day to help employees.

    Leaders should additionally encourage self-care among their employees, who mentally are trying to adapt to remote work, the stress of new environments and the stress of daily updates around COVID-19. Managers should advocate for Remote employees to exercise, get quality sleep, take showers, and continue on with lives as normally as they can.

    Dress for success

    While it may not sound important to be dressed for business while working from home, psychologically it does help many workers to not be wearing sweatpants and pajamas while trying to be productive. Dressing up for yourself can also mentally help you feel better, thus making it easier to focus on checking important tasks off your list. Dressing appropriately also allows employees to feel more comfortable hopping on an impromptu video call with clients or coworkers.

    Don’t forget about non-work interactions and team building

    Finally, one last thing that may not be obvious to managers is the importance of facilitating non-work interactions among remote workers. Creating time and space for workers to talk about news, hobbies, and other topics — just as they would have done in the office — helps them relieve stress and feel better connected. One way to do this is to leave a few minutes before and after video conferences open for people to catch up. Another is to host a weekly virtual happy hour (drinking not required) or a virtual team-building exercise to build bridges between employees.

    For more resources from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:

    • All of our coronavirus content in one place.
    • COVID-19 Vaccine FAQs
    • Reopening Guide and Resources
    • Main Street Lending Program Guide
    • Social Media Toolkit for Reopening for Reopening
    • State-by-State Business Reopening Guide, with interactive map
    • Paycheck Protection Loan Guide
    • Economic Injury Disaster Loan Guide
    • Guide to PPP Loan Forgiveness
    • Employee Retention Tax Credit Guide
    • Coronavirus Response Toolkit for Businesses
    • Customizable flyer for businesses to communicate with customers
    • Find your local Chamber of Commerce
    • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s list of small business resources for coronavirus assistance
    • CARES Act Guide for Independent Contractors and 1099 Workers
    • U.S. Chamber OnDemand – A new streaming service

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    Workplace productivity has been a top issue for human resources professionals since the inception of work. Every organization strives to maximize the return on labor and minimize wasted hours. Technological advances have aided that pursuit in many ways, but they have also complicated an age-old problem.

    How to keep your workers focused on work (and not their phones)

    Source: Antonio_Diaz / iStock / Getty

    Communication technology such as e-mail and Slack allows workers in disparate locations to get answers, solve problems, and collaborate in real time. However, in our always-on culture, communication technology has evolved from being helpful to being a hindrance.

    In fact, a recent study found that 84% of e-mail users keep their in-box open in the background at all times, with 70% of e-mails being opened within 6 seconds of receipt.

    We have become proficient at being responsive but sacrificed the ability to do our best work. Much of our most important work requires deep focus and time to think. Always-on communication technology demands workers to respond and, in doing so, steals the precious resource of focus and leaves your employees frustrated about not accomplishing “real work.”

    But is e-mail and communication technology really that bad?

    To find out, we looked at the anonymized worldwide data of more than 50,000 knowledge workers and found a trend of distraction and interruption in the workplace that was worse than we expected.

    How to keep your workers focused on work (and not their phones)

    The Average Knowledge Worker “Checks In” on E-Mail and IM Every 6 Minutes

    Knowledge workers—like writers, designers, developers, and project managers—depend on collaboration and quick access to information to meet the demands of their roles.

    Communication tools facilitate getting the information needed, but they are also a constant source of interruption to our focused work. When we looked at the data, we found that the average knowledge worker “checks in” with communication tools every 6 minutes. (In this case, a “check in” is defined as any time you switch to a communication tool while working on another productive task.)

    How can we expect employees to accomplish focused work when they only have a few minutes in between answering e-mails and messages? The short answer is that we cannot.

    As we look at the full breakdown, the picture is even more bleak. Thirty-five percent of workers check their e-mail and IM every 3 minutes or less, while only 18% can go more than 20 minutes without being pulled into communication.

    How to keep your workers focused on work (and not their phones)

    Even worse, we found that people who use Slack—a popular team chat tool meant to reduce e-mail use—actually switched to communication tools more often. Rather than streamlining our communication time, Slack users on average spent only 5 minutes in between communication check-ins, while non-Slack users could go 8 minutes.

    The technology that we use to improve work is hurting our ability to get work done. The constant communication interruptions are not only diminishing productivity but also hindering workers from doing their best work and growing in their careers.

    Communication Demands Diminish Deep Work

    Our data show that 40% of knowledge workers never get 30 minutes straight of focused time in a workday. That means that nearly half of knowledge workers rarely get time for deep work.

    In fact, the study revealed that the average knowledge worker maxes out at around 40 straight minutes of focused time free from communication. In other words, 40 minutes was the longest stretch most people went without checking e-mail in a day.

    How to keep your workers focused on work (and not their phones)

    This was the median. As we delved deeper into the numbers, we discovered that 17% of people can’t even get 15 minutes straight of uninterrupted, focused time without communication, while only 30% are able to get an hour or more.

    How to keep your workers focused on work (and not their phones)

    Addressing Digital Distractions

    Recently, a New Zealand company did a productivity experiment and switched to a 4-day, 32-hour workweek. According to the company, “workers said the change motivated them to find ways of increasing their productivity while in the office. Meetings were reduced from two hours to 30 minutes, and employees created signals for their colleagues that they needed time to work without distraction.”

    The New Zealand study yields important lessons that all organizations can apply with or without a 4-day workweek. When we allow workers to focus without distractions, productivity increases.

    Many productivity experts have suggested batching communications into specific blocks during the day, while others have suggested committing to an hour or more of focused work without e-mail or IM during parts of your day when you’re less likely to be needed (like early in the morning).

    The modern workplace is filled with distractions. As organizations work to improve productivity, the disruptive nature of communication tools is often overlooked.

    We need e-mail and IM in the workday, but we need to shift how we utilize them. Being aware of the distraction can help organizations help workers find a better balance. Doing so will improve not only productivity but also employee satisfaction, as workers would feel more in command of their day.

    It is time to help workers be more intentional in when and how they check communication tools. This may require shifting expectations of “instant answers” to every communication and setting realistic priorities. These data very clearly highlight an urgent need to regain focus and not allow communication tools to rob our productivity or digital wellness.

    Robby Macdonell is the CEO of RescueTime, a company that helps people understand their relationship with technology so they can do more of their most important work. By tracking digital activities, RescueTime gives individuals a complete picture of their attention, as well as tools to take action toward a more balanced, meaningful workday.