10 reasons to encourage workplace distractions

Face-to-face interactions are increasingly important in a digital world, and can positively impact your business. Here's why you should encourage some ‘workplace distractions.’

workplace distractions
Reasons to encourage workplace distractions

Why IT leadership shouldn't be that concerned about workplace distractions

In today's digital world, face-to-face interactions often take a backseat to texts, messaging and app-enabled communication (think Slack or Hipchat). But encouraging employees to make small talk, chat around the water cooler or in the break room, and swap celebrity gossip over their cubicle walls can actually benefit your business. Here's how.

1. It strengthens culture
1. It strengthens culture

Without a strong company culture, businesses struggle to grow. It's difficult to attract and retain IT talent if employees don't feel connected, says Tim Eisenhauer, CEO of collaboration solutions company Axero Solutions. "Employees need to feel comfortable and confident for a positive company culture to develop. Culture is often born from shared interests, many of which have nothing to do with work. It's unrealistic to expect employees to bond and work well together without the help of water cooler chat," Eisenhauer says.

2. It helps introverts come out of their shell
2. It helps introverts come out of their shell

Social anxiety is real, and it can have negative impacts on the workplace. People who suffer from social anxiety, or who are introverted or simply shy often have difficulty conversing with others -- think Elliott Alderson from the USA drama Mr. Robot. "This leads to communication breakdowns, which can then lead to missed appointments and a lack of focus. Even though you, as an employer, can't fix social anxiety and you can't make people less introverted, water cooler chat and casual conversations can help to bring people out of their shells. Let them mingle," Eisenhauer says.

3. It offers casual face time with managers and leadership
3. It offers casual face time with managers and leadership

If your employees are afraid of or hesitant to talk with their managers or your company's leadership, your business can suffer. Without one-on-one interaction, workers can feel disconnected and underappreciated, and that can impact engagement and loyalty. "Unfortunately, this is rather common in the business world, but more often than not, casual conversation is the answer. People are more likely to open up when the conversation is about personal interests and not about work-related details. Casual chats in the break room or at the water cooler is an ideal way for people to get more comfortable with managers," Eisenhauer says.

4. It improves collaboration
4. It improves collaboration

Some people find it easy to work and collaborate with people they don't know. Others need a degree of shared personal interests for collaboration to be at its best. Getting to know someone before diving into complex tasks together can make a huge difference, Eisenhauer says. You don't have to set up structured activities or spring for group lunches. Just encourage employees to get to know each other during their downtime. As they build personal relationships, collaborating on work-related tasks and projects becomes much easier, according to Eisenhauer.

5. It improves productivity
5. It improves productivity

Today's IT leaders are always looking for ways to improve workplace productivity, but those who believe casual conversation and workplace chatter are counterproductive are wrong. "Maybe you've been head-down on a project for hours, or even days. Maybe you're getting burned out trying to meet deadlines. Taking a break, moving around, grabbing a snack, having a conversation -- these breaks help your brain take a break so it can refocus and refresh, which goes a long way toward increasing performance and productivity," says Rusty Lindquist, vice president of insights and human capital management at HR solutions firm BambooHR.

6. It keeps employees healthy
6. It keeps employees healthy

Don't overlook the importance of keeping your IT staff members healthy. A healthy employee shows up to work on time, maintains a positive mindset and works harder, says Eisenhauer. "Stress can have a huge negative impact on physical and mental health, so taking time to unwind from the stresses of the workday is important. The act of getting up, moving around and walking to the water cooler or the break room can get the blood flowing and help relieve stress," he says.

7. It can spark new ideas
7. It can spark new ideas

Just because people aren't talking solely about work around the water cooler doesn't mean great ideas aren't percolating as a result. Every once in a while, regular conversation can lead to the proverbial light bulb, Eisenhauer says. "Some ideas that come from water cooler chat may even influence new products and services. It's a casual way to brainstorm and problem solve, even by taking a few literal steps away from what they're doing. This means your staff members are actually working when chatting around the water cooler," he says.

8. It brings remote employees into the fold
8. It brings remote employees into the fold

Remote workers' biggest challenges are staying connected and engaged with their on-site colleagues, who they may rarely see face-to-face. Using a social collaboration tool and encouraging video collaboration is a logical and effective way to bring remote workers into the workplace "family," Eisenhauer says.

9. It increases employee engagement
9. It increases employee engagement

It's hard to remain disengaged when you care about your colleagues and feel you're working together to accomplish a common mission. Encouraging relaxation, socializing and non-work-related conversations can drastically improve employee engagement, Eisenhauer says.

10. It increases respect for management
10. It increases respect for management

Even as an IT manager or C-level executive, taking time to chat with your coworkers around the water cooler or in the break room can help improve your relationships, says Eisenhauer. If you're allowing them the freedom to socialize and you trust they'll get their work done, it can earn you greater respect. "The best way to get people to do good work is to gain their respect and show that you trust them. If you make it clear you aren't going to 'police' anyone, it'll improve relationships and your staff will better enjoy working for you," he says.