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Stop jamming your workplace

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HOOKED TO THE iPOD But does it help improve your efficiency at work?
HOOKED TO THE iPOD But does it help improve your efficiency at work?

Cross-cubicle discussions, cell phone chatter, iPod attraction or Facebook fascination. Is it possible to avoid workplace distractions?

It’s 10 a.m. and you’re deep into the first report of the day. The boss might ask for it any time, the fine tuning isn’t fine yet. That’s when the mobile in the next cubicle buzzes.

Technically, it “rings” but in reality it emits the deep-throated “maaaaw” of a buffalo trying to pull its leg out of a bog. This mother-of-all-jingles is primed to do encores. There’s no way you can continue working till Priya ambles across to answer the call.

You vow to start a “law against people wandering off from cell phones” campaign.

“Mobile” orchestra is only one of the conspiracies in the workplace to sabotage your job. Madhavi, on the left machine, is nice to work with, when she stops talking.

She commutes to deliver a daily report on her problems with MIL, maid and her master mind kid. She has enough complaints about her crisis-ridden life to choke any bandwidth.

Then there are colleagues who can’t work without music — play or sing, who fire an AK-56 of messages all day, ask for information at all times. It’s getting harder to concentrate on work. How do you explain your missed deadlines to the boss?

The problems

Bad vaastu, says senior accountant Meena

. “If your cubicle is close to the customer service department, recruiters, sales, project managers on client calls, or right next to a conference room, you will be distracted by all the phone calls. Tough luck if your cubicle is next to those who vent their frustrations visibly — banging desks, calling names. If your cubicle is close to the kitchen, the sound of the coffee maker, the microwave and people chatting can be distracting as well. Sometimes photos (even family photos in revealing clothes) can be distracting to co-workers. Once, we had a group of scientology evangelists marching around the office parking lot for a few days. That was one distracting week for the entire company!”

Staying back or reaching early is no guarantee you can avoid workplace distractions (WDs): project requests, meeting reminders, last-minute/changing demands, tales of love life, emotional breakdowns …

The worst offenders, everyone agrees, are the loud co-workers. Their cross-cubicle discussions rise above equipment noise, weather, blackouts and water-cooler gossip.

Constant chatting is their birthright. Why aren’t managers dealing with these problem kids? And there are the self-generated disorders — Information Anxiety Syndrome forces you to surf the Net, Attention Deficiency hooks you to the iPod, Orkut Angst and Facebook Fascination Digg you deep.

Varied solutions

“Solutions vary,” said Meena. “Relocate cubicle, request working from home a few days, get noise cancelling headphones and nudge co-workers to change those photos!” Or try these suggestions:

If you have work, activate your ‘Out of Office’ alert.

“Thanks for the e-mail, I am off site today, please contact XYZ will help. Instead of the “away”, set your IM to “on a project-back soon-contact XYZ for urgent issues.”

This way you’ll know if something comes up.

Prefer voice mails to answering phone calls. Why do you think every call is meant for you?

About those chattering cube-mates who won’t shut up — clamp on the headphones in plain sight (have noise-free ones?).

Chit-chat kills productivity, whether over cubicle walls or in the washroom. If things get unbearable, get out of the office.

The chatter-gang is heading out for lunch? Sit glued to finish the work. One interesting recommendation is to block cubicle doorways with a ‘Stop!’ sign. Another is allotting e-mail time. A KPO issues a how-to manual to all employees on office procedures — “Don’t ask, look it up!” is the message. An NGO has put up an FAQ page on its website that answers all possible “doubts”.

Employers also organise “orientation” courses for “focus improvement” that could include yoga/breathing exercises, along with methods like breaking down assignments into small segments. Some play the passion-linked-productivity game, allowing work-hour music and browsing.

Tolerance for bad behaviour is the new management mantra, no doubt built on the logic (?) that adult habits are set.

Has an employee been fired for being a WD? No one will tell. But HREs generally agree that distracters can be rehabilitated, brought over with sound advice.

So jump in and deal with that chatter box, if you want quality and speed at work or simply go home at a decent hour.

Why should you be asked to pay for overstaffing, for multi-tasking employees having too much time on their hands?

GEETA PADMANABHAN

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