Work chat distractions: Do work instant messengers make us more or less productive?

There are two sides to every story, and when it comes to advancements in technology, the digital world is no different. For years, the seemingly continuous development of screens and the integration of tech into every corner of our lives has been the target of attacks. From complaints about too much screen time to worries about safety and adverse health effects, the technological con-list continues to grow. But no matter how many skeptics pile on, there is no denying the positive contributions technology has given us.

Mobile phones, computers, and social media have made it possible to communicate with people on the other side of the globe – and even in space. But closer to home, communication apps and programs have also made it even easier to converse with a co-worker in a nearby cubicle. Despite the ease and increased collaboration technology has brought to the workplace, headline after headline has brought the drawbacks to light. It’s easy to point fingers at technology for being a distraction and claim the traditional ways of working were better – but do employees agree?

We surveyed over 900 full-time employees who use at least one work chat communication platform at their current job to see if they are boosting communication and collaboration or actually preventing workers from getting the job done. Work chat platforms may seem like an efficient tool – keep reading to see if that is truly the case.

Employees average 40 minutes a day in nonwork-related chat conversations at the workplace

How often are you distracted by work chat platforms

  • In-person conversations ranked as the top source of distraction at work (47%) followed by phone calls (20%) and chat platforms (15%).
  • 66% of employees had their work chat platform installed as an app on their phone and reported being distracted for 16 more minutes a day by nonwork-related conversations (for a total of 43 minutes).

Social technology platforms not only allow employees to stay connected, but they also improve job satisfaction, retention, and recognition. Yet, just like social media platforms, they can quickly become a distraction. Quick questions or updates about work projects can easily turn into personal chatting, and for the average employee, that meant 40 minutes of nonwork-related conversations each day. However, 44% of employees reported only being distracted by these platforms for 29 minutes or less a day.

Mentions of slacking off in the workplace typically revolve around lower-level employees, and while entry-level workers spent an average of 47 minutes per day distracted by nonwork-related conversations, senior managers spent the most time on personal chatter, at an average of 53 minutes per day. Of course, this doesn’t always mean senior managers have more free time to slack off; they may simply be more focused on developing interpersonal relationships with their colleagues – non-work-related conversations can deepen connections and in turn benefit the workplace.

Workplace technology that allows for quick and concise dialogue can do wonders for communication between employees, but studies have found face-to-face interactions to be the number one form of communication, especially when it comes to productivity. However, moderation may be the key. Employees who believed work chat technology decreased their productivity spent the most time in nonwork-related chat conversations, whereas those who thought the platforms increased productivity spent the least. Using the platform the way it was intended seems to allow employees to reap the benefits, but getting sucked in and distracted can lead to consequences. Apps that allow for certain threads to be muted could help employees veer from the temptation, while still being looped in to the important work-related messages.

Forty percent of employees feel work chat platforms make them more productive

do work chat platforms make you more or less productive

  • 34% of employees said they would get more work done if they uninstalled their current work chat platform.
  • Millennials were most likely to feel work chat platforms increased productivity (42%).

Numerous tech companies have infiltrated the workplace, creating platforms designed to promote collaboration and increase productivity in the office. According to managers, many seem to think they’re doing their job. About forty-four percent of managers believed work chat communication platforms made them more productive, with senior managers believing they had the most positive effect. Entry-level employees were more likely to describe work chat platforms as bad for productivity. Only 29% of employees overall felt work chat platforms generally decreased productivity.

Lunch was the most discussed nonwork topic on work chat platforms

Top nonwork-related topics discussed on work chat platforms

  • 84% believed work chat platforms increased office gossip, and 20% said it increased gossip by a great deal.

Companywide group chats may be beneficial for business updates or welcoming a new team member aboard, but the constant connection and the numerous conversations going on at once can become overwhelming and utterly disorganized. Thanks to topics and channels, however, work chat platforms give employees the ability to have separate conversations for specific purposes, even if they’re not directly related to work.

While lunch was the most common nonwork-related topic discussed on work chat platforms, with 57% having engaged in this off-topic discussion, the topic most likely to have its own thread was activities going on outside of work. Movies and television were also popular topics, with 34% having discussed these topics. Nonwork-related conversations may lead to increased distractedness and even gossip, but they can also foster team bonding and building, which creates a healthier work environment and increased employee engagement.

Overuse of emojis was the number one pet peeve for supervisors

Top work chat pet peeves

  • Supervisors were more likely to have pet peeves related to messaging someone within speaking distance, overuse of emojis, and overuse of animated gifs.
  • Non-supervisors were more likely to have pet peeves related to lingering “user is typing” notifications, overuse of exclamations, and saying “hi” or “hello” but doesn’t reply further.

Just like many other aspects of workplace courtesy, there is a right and a wrong way to behave on work chat platforms. Rules of etiquette still apply, and when they aren’t followed, co-workers get annoyed. Saying “hi” or “hello” and then not replying further was the most common pet peeve for all of our respondents, but non-supervisors were more likely than their superiors to find the behavior bothersome. Overusing emojis closely followed, with 26% of respondents naming it as a pet peeve. However, while supervisors were the most likely to be annoyed by these emoticons, millennials were the generation most comfortable with their use. Oversharing and sending notifications to all users or an entire channel also topped the pet peeve charts, getting on the nerves of supervisors and non-supervisors at an almost equal rate.

The most distracting time of day for work chat platforms was 3 p.m.

Strategies to make work chat more productive

Between emails, text messages, direct messages, and work chats, people always have notifications rolling in. While turning off push notifications is an easy fix, nearly 40% of employees never muted or snoozed notifications to avoid distractions. However, among those who were more serious about cutting out the background noise, 35% hit mute or snooze at least once a week, while 13% did so daily.

Muting all notifications puts employees at risk of missing an important message, though. And sometimes, there is just one person – or a handful of people – causing most of the distractions. Twenty-seven percent of employees said they would like to block or mute a co-worker to be more productive, but only 18% have done so. The discrepancy between wanting to mute and actually muting may be due to some platforms not allowing team members to be blocked. Even in cases of harassment, it is impossible to block or mute other individual users on the popular platform Slack.

Although silencing specific people may not be possible across all platforms, it could be helpful to turn off the notifications for the app as a whole – at least at certain times or on certain days. Employees reported the most distracting times to be 3 p.m., 4 p.m., and 12 p.m., while Friday was the most distracting day by far. Compared to just 2% of employees that reported being distracted on Tuesdays, a whopping 72% said the traditional end of the workweek was when their attention was the most easily diverted.

Use it properly

Incorporating social communication technology in the workplace starts with good intentions, namely facilitating quick, efficient, and concise communication between co-workers that helps increase productivity and employee morale. But as with any other social platform, conversations can quickly veer off-topic and end up as nothing more than a distraction. While proper use of the platforms and keeping nonwork-related channels and threads to a minimum is crucial for minimizing distractions, choosing the right software can also mean the difference between decreased productivity and increased collaboration.

At Nulab, we are committed to making the workplace a productive and collaborative environment, without the distractions. With real-time communication, message tracking, and media monitoring, our Typetalk software is designed to improve connectivity and employee engagement so that your team can succeed. To learn more about how our products can transform your workplace, visit us online today.

Methodology and Limitations

We collected responses from 927 full-time employees who use at least one work chat communication platform at their current job. Fifty percent of our participants identified as female, and another 50% identified as male. Less than 1% of respondents identified as a gender not listed by our study. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 74 with a mean of 34 and a standard deviation of 9.4.

Results from this study rely on self-report and as such, may be affected by selective memory, telescoping, attribution, and exaggeration. No statistical testing was performed and findings are exploratory.

Sources

  • https://www.webmd.com/parenting/news/20190128/can-too-much-screen-time-hinder-child-development
  • https://health.usf.edu/is/blog/2018/06/26/technologys-effect-on-our-health-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly
  • https://airandspace.si.edu/stories/editorial/challenge-communication-space
  • https://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2018/04/16/how-technology-is-changing-communication-in-the-workplace/#21edfc1a15ee
  • https://www.workforce.com/2018/08/27/dont-ignore-negative-effects-technology-work/
  • https://www.forbes.com/sites/louisefron/2017/12/03/how-technology-can-transform-workplace-humanity/#6781d9f82f00
  • https://www.inc.com/mandy-gilbert/are-your-employees-slacking-off-here-are-5-ways-to.html
  • https://www.inc.com/amy-balliett/how-this-1-change-in-your-communication-style-can-boost-productivity.html
  • https://www.vox.com/recode/2019/5/1/18511575/productivity-slack-google-microsoft-facebook
  • https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2019/02/11/14-hallmarks-of-successful-business-team-building-activities/#4fbf47716b09
  • https://www.theladders.com/career-advice/office-chat-etiquette
  • https://www.wired.com/story/turn-off-your-push-notifications/
  • https://qz.com/1641708/slack-doesnt-care-that-you-cant-block-a-workplace-harasser/

Fair use statement

Sending chats to all users or the entire channel may be a common pet peeve of work chat platforms, but your co-workers may be interested in these findings. Feel free to share this project in your chat of choice or on social media. The graphics and content found here are available for non-commercial reuse. Just make sure to link back to this page so the authors receive proper credit.

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