How to Keep Distractions From Hampering IT Staff Performance

How to Keep Distractions From Hampering IT Staff Performance

Pandemics, war, inflation, cyberattacks, and a seemingly endless number of other crises are taking a mental toll on just about everyone -- including many IT teams.

To create, innovate, and troubleshoot either the code they're developing or the infrastructure they're trying to secure, IT workers' focus is integral to the quality of their work, observes Sam Raza, senior director of IT for recruitment firm Altis Recruitment.

Employees need a working environment that allows them to focus on their work with ease and flow. The best way to reach this goal is to offer staff a choice of workspaces, says Elisabeth Galperin, a business productivity coach and speaker. “Some individuals need near-silence and very little visual stimulation; others need ambient noise and thrive where there's constant activity around them,” she explains. In either case, by offering hybrid workplace settings, IT organizations will benefit by having highly focused employees. Galperin adds that managers should trust that their team member will know which environment suits them best.

Personal electronics can be a major source of distraction, so it's important for team members to put them away when they're not needed, suggests Boris Jabes, CEO at data analytics tool provider Census. “This includes phones, laptops, and even televisions.”

Raza advises her team members to “defend their calendars,” blocking-off two- to three-hour stretches of time to concentrate on their most challenging tasks. “I also recommend they turn off all notifications during this time -- email, chat and video call requests.”

Another strategy is strictly limiting the number of work-in-progress projects and assigning team members to a select number of tasks. “It’s scientifically proven that humans aren't good at multitasking, but we can’t help but try,” says Jesse Stockall, chief architect for IT management platform builder Snow Software. “Discourage multi-tasking within your teams,” he recommends.

Stockall says that many of his teams use Kanban, a continuous flow work model. “You work on one task until its completed, but you don’t go above the WIP (work-in-progress) limit for the team,” he explains. “If you reach the limit, you partner with someone else on the team to help them complete their task.” Stockall believes that the model fosters focus and drives tasks to completion instead of allowing them to linger.

Raza feels that it's important to give team members a sense of purpose, emphasizing how everyone on the team -- from the developers and engineers to the tech support specialists and QA testers -- contribute to the overall mission. “Our organization helps to ignite motivation around tasks that can, at times, feel like a chore,” she states. “I see increased engagement and focus when I show my team how even the smallest, least glamorous tasks, like patching a server or working on a piece of code ... helps us increase revenue and meet critical milestones.”

It’s important to remember that staff members can't always be totally focused. “Assume there will be times when teams will seek distractions,” Stockall says.

Stockall suggests holding fireside chats that allow team members to ask questions within an informal setting. “By stepping out of the formalized communication channels, leaders can hear firsthand what their employees want to learn more about as well as hear direct feedback on how the business can do better.”

Jabes believes that when team members are given a set amount of time to complete a task, they're less likely to get sidetracked. “It's important to schedule time for specific tasks and to stick to that schedule as much as possible,” he recommends. Breaking down tasks into smaller pieces can make it easier to stay focused on a task, Jabes adds.

Enterprises are finally beginning to understand that they need to treat their employees as individuals first, Galperin says. “When employees feel empowered to contribute to the creation of their ideal work environment, they are more motivated and inspired to give the company their best,” she notes. “The right environment will foster focus and high performance.”

Distraction, on occasion, can actually be beneficial, spurring creativity and giving team members a few minutes of precious idle time. “Generally, some distraction is good for a change of pace,” Stockall observes. When the mind is relaxed, it's often when you get the best ideas and solutions to complicated problems, he adds.

Going for a walk, or stopping to stretch, are both good things, Stockall notes. “Only when a staffer spends more time on distractions than on the tasks at-hand will a diversion negatively impact productivity.”

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