An increasing number of workers experience noise and interruptions as the primary source of frustration at work. Not only does noise and interruptions harm productivity, but may also lead to unnecessary errors, working overtime and stress . In this blog post, we will look into how you can nudge your working environment and reduce noise and interruptions.
Noise and interruptions are well-known problems at many modern workplaces and an increasing number of employees find it hard to complete their tasks at work due to noise and interruptions. The problem is particularly common in large-scale offices, as they typically are designed for team cooperation.
Gloria Mark, from the University of California, estimates that it takes an employee an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to regain focus on a task subsequent to an interruption.
The time wasted could potentially have been better spent, especially on a busy day.
Furthermore, an article by Harvard Business Review states that workers lose as much as 86 minutes per day due to noise distractions . More than 10,000 workers across 14 countries were surveyed for this estimate .
At several workplaces, employees experience that they are given a number of inquiries throughout the day, which are beyond their core tasks. The many interruptions force them to work faster, which can lead to errors, working overtime and stress. Therefore, multiple workplaces are focusing on reducing the number of interruptions by working with behavioural change.
Noise and interruptions cover a wide range of issues, which includes everything from the noisy printer and the colleague with high heels, to the social and relevant interruptions.
Many workers find it hard to reject interruptions by colleagues, as they want to be helpful. However, short interruptions, such as minor queries, often end up taking longer time than expected.
Flow-lights: A ‘high-tech’ Nudge to Prevent Interruptions
In one study, a group of researchers from Zürich University, tested a system that assisted employees in assessing whether their colleague was busy or not .The system consisted of installing lamps at the employees’ workstations, which would signal their status to colleagues, where red meant ‘busy’, yellow meant ‘away’ and green meant ‘available’ (see figure 1).
An experiment was conducted on 449 participants in 12 countries to test the effect. The result showed that the number of interruptions was reduced by 46%. In addition, several of the workers expressed that their colleagues paid more attention when interrupted, as they were only interrupted when necessary.
The workers were so pleased with the system that 85% of the workers continued to use the solution after the experiment.
6 Nudges to Reduce Interruptions at the Workplace
1. Turn off unnecessary notifications
It is not only our colleagues that create interruptions – our technology does it as well. A notification from an e-mail can quickly catch our attention and before we know it, we have spent 10 minutes replying an e-mail that could have waited. Therefore, make sure any unnecessary notifications are turned off.
2. Signal that you are busy
The second nudge consists of letting colleagues know when you do not want to be disturbed. This could be done, for instance, bysetting your green porcelain frog on your desk when you do not want to be disturbed. However, when the frog is in the drawer, colleagues are free to ask questions. Thereby, you help your colleagues with assessing whether you are busy or not. Note that this nudge works in the exact same way as the flow-light solution, but as an ‘analog’ and much cheaper version.
3. Schedule time for small talk
There are different types of small talk, such as private or work-related. Smalltalk can be an important component of a retention strategy, but may also be desirable, as much learning and optimization of work happens when employees are talking to each other during the day. However, employees who seek to small talk do not necessarily think about how it affects the colleague they interrupt. A way to solve this problem is by scheduling short breaks for small talks. These breaks will create a specific time to look forward to for those who seek to small talk and at the same time limit unnecessary interruptions.
4. Have a sentence prepared beforehand
It can be difficult to reject a colleague in a cheerful way that does not spoil the mood. Furthermore, if you do not have a phrase ready, you often end up spending more time on the interruption than anticipated. Luckily, you can prepare yourself for this problem and avoid a rather sticky situation. Our proposal to you is to formulate a phrase that is designed to prevent the interruption in advance. An example could be the following: “I would love to discuss it with you, however, I am terribly busy at the moment. May I suggest a chat during lunch?”
5. Have a notepad by your side
Sometimes it happens! The good idea pops up and we are captivated by an overwhelming desire to share the idea. Or, a question we would like an answer to occurs. In fear of forgetting the idea or question, we immediately seek to obtain a colleague’s attention. In this case, the notepad will be your best friend. Instead of interrupting a colleague, you can write down questions and ideas and save them for later. This will reduce the number of interruptions and also help you getting your thoughts in writing instead of trying to remember them.
6. Make a procedure for interruptions
At times, it may be difficult to assess whether a question is OK to interrupt a colleague with, or not. A way to address this uncertainty may be to map the most common queries and have a simple procedure for when it is OK to interrupt.
Procedures for interruptions must, of course, be adjusted the specific workplace.
Figure 2 shows such an example.
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Do you wish to learn how to apply behavioural science in practice
 Mark, G., Gudith, D., & Klocke, U. (2008, April). The cost of interrupted work: more speed and stress. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 107-110). ACM.
 Click herefor the report.
 Züger, M., Corley, C., Meyer, A. N., Li, B., Fritz, T., Shepherd, D., … & Snipes, W. (2017, May). Reducing Interruptions at Work: A Large-Scale Field Study of FlowLight. In Proceedings of the 2017 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 61-72). ACM.