Digital Interruptions are Killing Workplace Productivity

In the transition to a remote and highly digital workplace, we have begun to rely more on digital tools for collaboration and communication. While some digital tools can be great for collaboration and communication, some are not without complications. Instant messaging can allow us to quickly reach a colleague, which is helpful, but the structure and continuous timing of instant messaging can harm productivity in the long run.

Instant messaging prevalence has significantly increased, with 57% of workers using instant messaging services like Slack or Google Chat and 43% using instant messaging tools often.

In research done by Gloria Mark of the University of California, Irvine, a typical office worker gets only 11 minutes between each interruption. Additionally, it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task after an interruption. The lost productivity time associated with instant messaging adds up quickly. Think about it in terms of if these interactions were occurring in an office environment, would we be productive if we had people stopping by our desks every 11 minutes?

The impact on productivity amidst distractions also varies by person and is impacted by how we are naturally wired. Some wiring profiles prefer to do things sequentially, and if they are interrupted in a sequence, they will start back at the beginning. These kinds of employees will suffer more from regular interruptions in their work.

Instant messaging also creates a false sense of urgency and can cause us to reprioritize our tasks according to what makes the most noise, not necessarily what is important and urgent. If you’re a leader, you shouldn’t expect your team to always be on instant messaging applications. Let your team know it is okay to put themselves on “do not disturb” and sign out of the applications entirely if it isn’t during the core working hours or causing more harm than good. Signing out of instant messaging applications doesn’t make a team member any less reachable by other means if you need to reach them urgently. These actions also help place healthy boundaries around what is expected of your team.