Managing Interruptions at Work
As crazy as it sounds, it can be difficult to get work done at work. There are the drive bys –people who want your opinion on EVERYTHING before they make decisions, the interrupters who have just one question, several times a day, the visitors who want to update you on EVERYTHING happening in their personal lives, and coworkers who host meetings at their workstation, take phone calls on speaker phone, and who listen to music without headphones, while loudly eating potato chips. All of these distractions are enough to make many employees want to find a quieter place to work.
The concept that it can be hard to get work done at work is crazy. We’re at work to work. And yet many employees, with and without a door, get in at 7:00 am, before others arrive, so they can “get some work done” and stay late because they “got nothing done all day.”
Open work environments can be productive and interruptions can be minimized, but managing interruptions at work will require some clear guidelines and direct communication, which many workplaces are missing.
Managing interruptions at work – practices for creating a work environment that works for everyone:
Write workspace practices down, share them with all employees, post the practices in every work area, and discuss them frequently.
Examples of practices for managing interruptions at work:
- Use a headset for all phone calls.
- Pay attention to your volume. Speak as quietly as possible.
- If you have visitors at your desk for business or non-business related conversations that last longer than five minutes, take the conversation to a conference room, empty office, or local coffee shop.
- Use headphones to watch videos and listen to music.
- Avoid prairie dogging—calling down a row, hallway, or over a cubicle wall. Instead, walk to the person’s desk, call, or send an email or text message.
- Turn off all auditory alerts on computers and cell phones, so your coworkers don’t have to hear pinging and ringing all day. The people you sit with don’t need to know every time you receive an email, text, or Facebook message.
- Finally, but MOST IMPORTANTLY, give all employees permission to make requests and give feedback when workspace guidelines are broken. It must not only be acceptable but expected that employees will say something when a guideline is broken and the workspace gets too loud.
Most employees will not speak up when others are being loud. It’s easier to find another location to work than risk a coworker’s defensive response. And no one wants to be ‘that person’ who complains about how loud someone is. If employees aren’t comfortable speaking up and making requests, offer training on how to have these conversations, and provide written examples of what employees can say that is respectful and clear.
Guidelines for dealing with interruptions at work:
You’d think that having a door would make people immune to work place distractions, but that’s not the case. Employees with offices also deal with drive bys and interruptions. The key to dealing with both is communication.
- Don’t wait for problems to occur. Anticipate challenges and talk about them before guidelines are broken. It’s much easier to make a request than to give feedback.
- Each time a new person joins a team, department, or workspace, ask everyone on the team to share their work-related pet peeves, how they like to communicate, and how they prefer to be interrupted. Everyone deals with interruptions, so you might as well express a preference. If you’d prefer people email you and ask when you have time for a quick question, make that request. If you’re ok with people interrupting you without notice, let people know. If you’re not distracted by noise, tell people. If you are, make that preference known.
People are too hesitant to speak up at work for fear of damaging relationships and hurting people’s feelings. The best thing leaders can do to improve the working environment (or any workplace challenge) is to set clear expectations, create opportunities to talk about how things are going, and make it ok to speak up.
Suffering at work is optional. Everyone is accountable for the work environment, and you won’t get what you don’t ask for.