If you find it difficult to focus for long periods of time, you’re not alone. According to a 2015 study by Microsoft, the average human’s attention span is 8 seconds. That’s right, our attention spans are shorter than a goldfish’s.
Still here? Ok, good.
There are many reasons for our shrinking attention spans, so we won’t rehash them here. The question is: How does this quirk of modern life impact our workplaces? The answer is: significantly.
We recently produced a research report that sheds light on the challenges facing organizations today to uncover the meaningful insights business leaders need to support happier, more engaged, and more productive workplaces. One thing we discovered is that employees are being bombarded with notifications.
With so many strains on our already limited attention spans, no wonder it’s hard to get anything done.
As for bright ideas – those magic ‘aha!’ moments? Forget about it. With staff hardly able to focus on their day-to-day tasks without being distracted, there’s little room for lightbulb moments.
The key to winning back employees' attention spans is creating content that holds their focus. That means considering where and how they consume corporate communications – as well as what’s really important for them to hear. Here’s how:
Part of the reason notifications are so distracting is that responding to them normally means switching tabs or apps. Once you leave whatever platform you’re working on to chase a ping, you’re far more likely to start browsing or get distracted by another notification than you are to return to your original task. Now, we all need a break every now and then but clearly all this app-hopping is frustrating employees, by making them feel unable to work at their full potential.
Employees today need a unified workplace experience – one that doesn’t involve disjointed tools.
2. Invest in user experience
With just as many notifications coming from their personal phones as from their work accounts, employees are already having to fight temptation to keep themselves on track. The best way an organization can support them to do this is by investing in the right tech and making sure it offers a simple user experience.
Why? When faced with clunky, outdated or unsuitable software, it’s easy for employees to become frustrated. The more frustrated they are, the more likely they are to ‘reward’ themselves with a quick browse, or a peek at their phone.
Prioritize staff’s comfort within your digital workplace by creating a place they’ll want to visit, so they’re far less likely to give up halfway through a task or project.
All-staff messages have a time and a place. But use them sparingly, or they’ll quickly lose impact. When staff are already inundated with notification, it doesn’t help if they’re left wondering if a ping is even really for them.
Truly intelligent digital workplaces let managers get extremely focused in terms of who they’re targeting. Messages can be sent to groups who have an interest in a particular topic, members of a cross-functional project team, or to specific departments and regions. This level of targeting means staff are more likely to read and respond to messages, as they know these messages will likely contain information that’s relevant and useful.
Whether we like it or not, social media has fundamentally changed how we consume content. Playing around on our phones is fun because it’s designed to be. But rather than simply seeing apps like Facebook and Instagram as our opponents in the fight for employees’ focus, we should be asking what we can learn from them.
Breathing new life into corporate communications with fun features like Stories, or status updates that allow colleagues to ‘like’, comment and share, is a fantastic way to hold their attention. Plus, when employees can get their social fix without leaving the platform, they’re more likely to stick around.
Similarly, consider what form your communications take. Does everything need to be expressed in writing? Or can you leverage video and photo assets to mix things up?
Diversifying your content keeps staff on their toes and stops them from getting bored. But make sure you’re paying attention to the quality of images and ensuring video content isn’t too long. You don’t want to replace overly wordy messages with unnecessarily long videos, or else staff’s attentions will start to fade. Again, you can take inspiration from social media here.
6. Most importantly, give staff time to think
So, you’ve got your communications on point. Great. Just don’t let that become an excuse to overload employees with messaging – no matter how well-targeted it might be or how good it might look. After all, part of the issue here is that there’s just too much going on.
Between texts, calls, emails, IMs, DMs and reminders it can be hard to find a quiet moment in the day to just… think. Factor some downtime into the workday, so everyone’s got the chance to let their minds wander.
This might sound counterintuitive but giving people a chance to regularly reset is proven to help them stay more focused in the long run. Plus, you never know where their thoughts might lead.