interruptions at work

How to Help Your Team Avoid Interruptions at Work

Interruptions are costing your team precious time

Interruptions at work are one of the most common frustrations for our Personal Efficiency Program participants. Our survey data shows that 40% of participants lose 1-2 hours a day, 32% lose 2-3 hours a day, and 31% lose more than 3 hours a day due to unexpected interruptions. For managers, this adds up to a lot of lost productivity for your team.

We have previously discussed strategies for individuals to minimise interruptions. Today we share our top tips for managers on how to minimise interruptions at work for you and your team.

1. Schedule team discussions

Interruptions from colleagues are a common occurrence in a typical workday. A practical but powerful strategy for minimising interruptions is to schedule set meeting hours for questions. Encourage team members to batch non-urgent questions to ask a colleague and discuss them together at a regular team meeting. Try setting a weekly team discussion slot to avoid being interrupted multiple times throughout the week.

You can also try setting team office hours, during which team members are available for questions or discussions. During team office hours, team members generally do reactive tasks like handling emails rather than focused deep work. This way, collaborative work can happen without disrupting the flow.

2. Promote a culture of respect

As managers, we can set team culture and norms that help ourselves and our teams to minimise interruptions.

A good start is to promote respect for each other’s time and schedule. Raise awareness of the productivity cost of interruptions and encourage a more thoughtful approach to interrupting others. Is the question or request urgent? Can it wait until a scheduled discussion time? As a team, discuss what qualifies as interruption-worthy and what can wait.

interruptions at work

3. Set communications norms

Most interruptions are based on communication. So to minimise interruptions, challenge the way your team thinks about communication. Do we expect our colleague to respond to a question straight away? Do we default to the easiest form of communication, i.e. talking face-to-face or ringing that person when we think of something to ask?

Lead your team in a brainstorming session and agree on rules and expectations on how and when to communicate. In a hybrid working environment, this should also include digital communication channels. As a team, agree on a set of rules around technology use, such as how team members should interact and respond across different platforms.

For example, use Messenger for social chat and Microsoft Teams for work-related chat. Turn off notifications during focused work time. Make it clear that it’s ok not to respond to chat messages straight away.

Lastly, periodically review communication rules to ensure that they’re working well for the team. Schedule regular feedback sessions with your team, both individually and as a group.

4. Say “no” politely

As managers, we can help our teams prioritise and say “no” to requests that don’t align with team goals. If a task is not critical to the team’s core value-add, say “no” politely. Learning when to say “no” helps our teams move away from the culture of “being busy”.

Managers can also help each team member clarify their unique value-add, which is excellent for building a results-based culture.

Lastly, managers can also protect their team’s time by saying “no” to requests on behalf of their team. Communicate widely on your team priorities and manage expectations on what your team can help with. This helps to maintain good working relationships across the organisation.

5. Be a role model

It is important to set a good example and be accountable. Be mindful of your own habits and avoid interrupting your team members. Respect their office hours.

effective management

Hold yourself accountable for how you’re minimising interruptions and focussing on what matters. Review how strategies for avoiding interruptions are working, and share your progress with the team.

At PEPworldwide, we have been helping teams increase their productivity for over 30 years. Learn how our tailored programs can help you and your team to avoid interruptions at work and increase productivity. We will work with your team to implement practical productivity strategies and achieve organisational goals, regardless of working location.

By Simon Nicholls

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