Concentration is required to accomplish anything meaningful, and yet our approach to the workspaces we create and the way we communicate often creates a culture conducive to constant interruption. Companies are setting up shop in open-air loft spaces with long rows of desks that allow for the free flow of ideas, but also permit ongoing banter, stray conversations, and impromptu meetings to be a constant distraction.
At the same time, our ever-increasing modes of communication – IM, Facebook, Twitter, text messages, email – mean that there are more ways for people to access, and interrupt, each other at all times. With all of these open spaces and open channels of communication, it’s easy for whole businesses to fall into the habit of over-communication.
We are all familiar, no doubt, with managers who come in hours before everyone else or stay late in order to take advantage of quiet time when no one is interrupting them. And it is most often during this “downtime” that they get real work, the work that drives the business, done. But it is no longer enough for leaders to merely circumvent distraction for their own productivity. They must also work to cultivate an environment in which everyone is conscious of the impact of interruption and respectful of others’ need to focus.
One way is to advocate for passive collaboration. Rather than holding meetings or walking over to someone’s desk, privilege modes of communication – be they IM, group chats, or email – that allow people to deal with queries in their own time. That is, to ignore them or process them at will. This requires, of course, that everyone be vigilant in staying focused on their own work, addressing questions as they have time and being patient in waiting for responses to their own inquiries.
Aside from more time to focus on meaningful work, the upside of passive collaboration is that it encourages employees to try to sort problems out themselves – thus gaining valuable knowledge and taking further ownership of projects – before asking for guidance.