How to deal with the worst law firm office distractions

December 06, 2019

According to research published by (desk space online marketplace) Office Genie, online distractions steal 48 minutes of productivity from the average UK worker every day. That’s four hours a week – or some 200 hours a year per employee. Office Genie estimates that this costs UK employers £88bn over the course of a year (or £2,808 per employee).

Net losses

Office Genie reckons workers aged 16-24 waste an average of 62 minutes every working day looking at non-work-related websites. Those aged 55-64 admitted to 27 minutes per working day lost – much less, but still significant.

And people working from home were found to waste 72 minutes online each working day, compared to just 34 minutes for their office-based colleagues. The top online distractions were (of course ) social media (43 per cent admitted to browsing social networks at work), online shopping (39 per cent) and viewing news websites (34 per cent).

Office Genie advises employers against “introducing draconian measures”, such a checking browser histories, because it can “breed a culture of mistrust”. Instead, clear employment policies on internet and email use should be communicated to all staff.

Annoying habits

Office workers can annoy and distract colleagues in many ways – and playing music is one of them. Music played at 70 decibels is believed to make some people more productive. Hearing things we enjoy improves our mood, and we’re usually more productive when we’re happier.

Music that’s too raucous, repetitive or loud can be hugely distracting, as can a colleague singing, humming or whistling, while headphone noise overspill can also be very IRRITATING. Trying to reach consensus among all team members on what music can be played, when, where and how loudly is advised. If not, your staff handbook should clearly state your firm’s policy on music, including whether you allow staff to wear headphones when working (which has been described as “career poison”).

And having to listen to a colleague noisily chomping their way through a bag of crisps or busily scrape away at a bowl of cereal can be equally infuriating, as can having to smell other people’s food (especially more pungent “delights” such as curries and meals containing garlic). Better to insist that such foods are consumed in a dedicated dining area only, where possible. 

Excessive chat

Some believe open-floor offices are bad for employee and employer, not least because they make it more likely that staff are distracted by other people’s conversations (you may even be guilty of talking too much in the office).

Although some office small talk is believed to be a good thing, as it contributes to a friendly and productive work environment, excessive chat can damage office productivity. The average person has been estimated to waste five days of each working year chatting (as well four days making cups of tea and coffee). The Business Insider website offers advice on How To Tactfully Tell A Noisy Coworker To Shut Up.

The problem of office-based distractions is thought to be getting worse. Published earlier this year, the results of a survey of 10,000 workers in 17 countries found that the increased use of technology has made it more difficult for staff to stay focused, with the average office worker distracted once every three minutes. Email remains a particular source of distraction and stress for some. 

If all else fails, maybe you and your colleagues could try to find quieter places in your office to work when you really need to concentrate. Or else – work from home more often.

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