In March of this year, social email provider harmon.ie (pronounced 'harmony') commissioned a survey of 515 IT users working the U.S. and global companies.  The purpose of the survey was to better understand the impact that electronic distractions have on the workplace and the findings were incredible, yet somewhat not unexpected.

MOST WORKPLACE DISTRACTIONS ARE ELECTRONIC

57% of work interruptions involve either the use of social tools like email, social networks, and text messaging, or switching windows among disparate standalone tools and applications, as well as personal online activities such as Facebook and Internet searches.  The remaining 43% of workplace distractions comes from activities like phone calls, talking with co-workers and ad hoc meetings.

45% of the survey's respondents keep at least six items open simultaneously and 65% report using one to three desktop or mobile devices in addition to their main computer.  These numbers were broken down by age in the survey and are probably what you expected:

  • 54% of 20-29 year-olds keep 6+ items open at the same time, while 46% keep 1-5 items open,
  • 53% of 30-39 year-olds keep 6+ items open at the same time, while 47% keep 1-5 items open,
  • 38% of 40-49 year-olds keep 6+ items open at the same time, while 62% keep 1-5 items open, and
  • 28% of 50+ year-olds keep 6+ items open at the same time, while 72% keep 1-5 items open. 

WORK OUTPUT AND QUALITY SUFFER

45% of employees surveyed reported they work only 15 minutes or less without getting interrupted and 53% waste at least one hour each day due to all types of distractions.  That hour per day translates into $10,375 of wasted productivity per person, per year, assuming an average salary of $30/hour.  Doing the math we learn for businesses with 1,000 employees, the cost of employee interruptions exceeds $10 million per year. The actual cost of distraction is even higher in terms of negative impacts on work output, work quality and relationships with clients and co-workers.

REFUSAL TO DISCONNECT LEADS TO RUDENESS

The survey found the increasingly common addiction to web-based activity - which psychologists call "online compulsive disorder" - is pervasive in the workplace.  2 out of 3 people tune out of face-to-face meetings to communicate digitally with someone else.  The addiction is also taking over the personal lives of survey takers.  The majority of people surveyed under the age of 40 stay digitally connected in bed and 44% of people under 30 stay connected during a night out at the movies.

STRATEGIES TO MINIMIZE DISTRACTIONS AT WORK

Users and the companies they work for recognize the productivity challenges created by technology and have implemented a variety of tools and strategies to limit digital-related disruptions.  68% reported their companies enforce policies and/or technologies to minimize distractions at work.  Employees report employers block access to public social media, track usage patterns, provide training, provide enterprise collaboration windows, institute No Facebook Fridays, and have instituted No Email Fridays.

What do you think about these strategies?  What strategies do you personally employ to minimize distractions at your place of business?  Does any of this research surprise you?