Today’s workplace is full of disruptions. From the shift to more open, collaborative office environments to emerging technology at our fingertips. In theory, collaborative workspaces should promote a breeding ground for free-flowing ideas and innovation. But the unforeseen consequence of these types of environments is frequent, ongoing distractions – whether it’s from loud conversations from co-workers, where you inadvertently become part of a conversation against your will, or general elevated noise levels across the office.

Technology is only compounding the issue by distracting an already distracted employee. The abundance of emails and meetings just add to this dilemma. Meetings are supposed to increase efficiency and streamline communication, but they can quickly become a huge waste of time and resources. According to a research study by Udemy, the top meeting disruptions are small talk and office gossip, side discussions about other projects, late arrivals/early departures, and technology/connectivity problems. How many of us have been in meetings where all four of these disruptions have occurred? I know I have.

Companies need to be aware how workplace distractions can impact employee morale and retention. Distracted employees report increased stress, frustration and lack of motivation. Unengaged employees are less productive and less motivated to stay at the company.

Open office environments and technology are not going away. So, what can organizations do to help employees stay focused and productive? If you are waiting for your employees to come to you and share their concern over workplace distractions, then you might be waiting awhile.

According to the same Udemy research, 70 percent of respondents believe that training can help block out workplace distractions, but nearly the same percentage of people who want training have never talked to a manager about it. That’s nearly three-quarters of your workforce who are suffering in silence. Employees are not confiding in managers for a number of reasons – whether they feel their disclosure would not help to improve the current situation or they don’t want to share something that could be construed as a sign of weakness in the eyes of their boss.

Employees are trying their best to cope with distractions on their own. When faced with distractions, employees are turning their phone off during work hours, playing music to drown out the noise, practicing meditation techniques, or focusing most of their time on completing tasks that don’t require too much focus. Instead of leaving employees to combat distractions on their own, learning and development can help.

Learning to Work Smarter

While training alone won’t solve the distraction problem, developing a learning culture can create an atmosphere where employees feel encouraged to admit when there are issues impeding their development. Managers must strive to create an environment where employees feel supported to grow and develop and not feel ashamed for sharing their limitations.

To help employees cope with workplace distractions, L&D can develop training that emphasizes how to work smarter. Training could include how to use technology more efficiently at work, mindfulness practices to stay focused and on task, time management skills, and leadership skills to take control of a meeting. As technology continues to evolve and organizations adapt and change practices, employees will continuously be confronted with disruptions. L&D must move beyond developing functional skills to developing practical soft skills as well. Employees must learn how to focus in the middle of chaos, lead effective and productive meetings, utilize resources to stay organized and focused, and select appropriate communication channels for the need.

The modern workplace is facing an absurd amount of distractions, and the momentum is just gaining steam. Helping employees succeed in this paradigm is critical to engagement and retention levels across the business.

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