Part 4: Focus rate
This is a part of a series that briefly introduces different HR metrics that are based on collaboration data extracted from digital communication and collaboration platforms.
Defining focus rate
The current workplace - with its increasing collaborativeness, digitalization, remoteness, and flexibility - drives us too easily to distraction. Many people, especially knowledge workers, are at a higher risk of their working time fragmenting to such a degree that it may negatively affect their ability to deliver high-quality work and meet their deadlines.
Fig. 1 below illustrates this fragmentation in a specific manager’s relatively busy week. The blue areas represent the focus time available for said manager’s individual work. The colored dashed lines represent various collaboration events (sent emails, attended meetings, and sent Slack messages) that carve “holes” into the initially compact block of focus time. From the graphs, it is evident that Tuesday was the busiest day of the week for that person, while Wednesday presents an opportunity for flow, as do Thursday and Friday afternoons to an extent. It also seems that her mornings tended to be busier than the afternoons.
Fig. 1: Focus time distribution across one manager’s relatively busy week. The blue areas represent the focus time available for said manager’s individual work. The colored dashed lines represent various collaboration events (sent emails, attended meetings, and sent Slack messages) that carve “holes” into the initially compact block of her focus time.
By comparing potential and real focus time, it is possible to quantify the proportion of working time available for focused work. Aggregating by team allows us to further inspect how focus rate is distributed across the company, and whether the teams that need it in higher doses have adequate focus time in the day.
For example, in Fig. 2 below we can see that the teams most in need of focus time - programmers in Data, Dev Design and Development teams - are, fortunately, in the upper half of the graph. In the case of externally oriented teams - Marketing and Sales - the focus rate is relatively low. However, given their roles (building relationships, asking for inputs from people from other teams, resolving urgent issues, etc.), we don't have to worry too much about it. Nevertheless, we might ask why the Marketing team has a lower focus rate than the Sales team - we would expect the opposite to be the case. We may also question whether Management has enough time for strategic and conceptual work.
Fig. 2: Typical focus rate segmented by team and over time.
When dealing with the problem of insufficient focus rate, it is important to know what the major sources of distraction are. If you have this information, you are equipped to prepare more targeted measures to protect employees’ time for focused work (see also “Suggested measures” section). For example, from Fig. 3 below it is clear that the productivity of Management team - that may struggle a little bit with their focus rate (see Fig. 2) - would benefit from implementing some rules and practices for more effective meetings, as almost 90% of their distraction is caused by meeting attendance.
Fig. 3: Proportion of distraction caused by various collaboration tools, segmented by team with the highlighted Management team represented by orange bars.
Why HR should pay attention to focus rate
Having enough time for focused work is crucial for employees' high-quality performance, especially in the case of jobs that belong in the so-called “makers” category. In contrast to managers who very often slice their time hour by hour, “makers” need to cut their days into 4 hour intervals (at a minimum) in order to deliver work of the required quality in accordance to deadlines.
Large-scale companies have surprised themselves with how quickly employee focus improves when they have the data to identify problems. Get in touch with our CEO, he will happily tell you more.
Focus rate is also directly related to employees’ well-being; when employees do not have enough focus time to do their work, they are forced to finish it after-hours, as only the evenings or early mornings allow for undisturbed time.
At the individual level, HR can help employees by offering trainings to teach them which rules and practices they can use to protect their focus time. For example, employees may be advised to rely on some of the following well-known rules and practices for better attention management:
- Turn off notifications in all applications, with exception of messages from selected colleagues and/or clients.
- Plan your calendar ahead of time, leaving sufficiently large time slots for important tasks and deep work free.
- Solve similar types of tasks in batches.
- Set automatic bi-daily reminders about your productivity and work on priorities.
- Use applications to block selected activities on computer and/or phone.
- Put all sources of distraction out of your reach, sight and earshot.
- Record important things in a simple application, do not carry them around in your head.
- Act in line with priorities (using, for example, the well-known Eisenhower Matrix that classifies tasks into four categories based on their respective importance and urgency).
- Set aside time for mental and physical regeneration: high quality sleep, regular breaks during the working day (e.g. using the Pomodoro Technique) and an appropriate level of physical activity.
Perhaps even more important than these individual recommendations, setting up an effective company digital culture is invaluable. Such a culture should consist of explicit rules and expectations regarding the use of digital tools in supporting each employee’s ability to achieve their goals, and ideally also their well-being. To illustrate, there are a few examples of such rules below:
- Meeting length should be proportionate to importance. The length of both remote and physical meetings should be driven primarily by the scope and complexity of their agenda. Quite often meetings are longer than they actually need to be - consider shortening 1 hour meetings to 40 minutes, or 30 minute meetings to 20 minutes.
- Communication should take place only on specific projects or tasks. This makes people less overwhelmed, communication more transparent and more traceable.
- Instant messages should be primarily posted in public channels. Issues discussed elsewhere (private channels/direct messages) can lead to a loss of transparency and insight, doubling work and limiting the circulation of ideas.
- Use threads in instant messaging tools to enhance readability and ensure that people aren’t disrupted by irrelevant discussion.
- Use emoticons as a tool for collecting quick feedback and confirmation that one has read the message.
- Emails should not be used for instant messaging - it should not be expected that the recipients automatically respond ASAP.
- Emails should be copied only to those people for whom the email is intended or for whom it is important.
- If a call does not take more than 5–10 minutes, it is not necessary to plan it ahead in the calendar.
- Working overtime should be the exception, not the rule.
Measuring the impact of focus-time-saving interventions
To verify the effect of implemented interventions on the amount of focus time available to employees, you can use the very same graphs presented at the beginning of this post. From the displayed numbers it will be clear whether they moved in the expected direction or not after any intervention.
But before making any bigger investments into these interventions, it is wise to test them on a smaller sample of teams first and compare their focus rate numbers with the same numbers of a “control group” of teams. The control group, of course, not being subjected to the same interventions. Besides objective behavioral data from collaboration platforms, we can also use pulse survey data. This would provide us with information about the change in employees’ subjective perspective on this topic after the interventions.
Solving the problem of focus time is only possible if you can measure distraction. Do this with Time is Ltd.'s platform to help your colleagues get to work.
What are the trends in the current workplace that fight for our attention? Read our whitepaper Paying Attention to Attention Pays Off, Protecting Scarce Sources of Focus Time in the World of Digital Exhaustion and Distraction.
At Time is Ltd., we measure digital collaboration and productivity, without ever sacrificing employee privacy. We provide an advanced analytical SaaS platform that delivers a holistic view of an organization collaboration patterns. We measure your team’s digital footprint to improve communication, productivity as well as save precious time. Our approach only aggregates meta-data from a variety of data sources, to show how your teams work with your collaboration tools so you can get them more productive and motivated.