By Legal Futures’ Associates Moneypenny 
From constant e-mails and phone calls to colleagues asking questions and requesting spontaneous ‘quick catch ups’, it sometimes seems like the single most prominent part of work is interruption. Add a pandemic into the mix and new interruptions brought about by remote working – such as Zoom meetings, deliveries and dogs barking – and it can quickly feel like you’re fighting a losing battle.
Data from Berkeley University revealed  that on average, interruptions take 23 minutes and 15 seconds to recover from – even if the distraction is only a minute – and the inability to focus on work is directly linked to stress. Stress-related absence soared by 64%  last year and almost two-thirds of employees revealed they’ve worked whilst ill during the pandemic.
With the last year making so many of us overwhelmed, failure to get mounting interruptions under control could prove extremely costly – to both the bottom line and employee health.
Here Bernadette Bennett, Head of Legal at leading outsourced communications provider, Moneypenny – which works with legal firms to improve efficiency and reduce the pressure around client communications – explores the true cost of interruption and shares tips for making the most of the working day.
Bernadette said: “This lost productivity costs British businesses £143 billion each year – an average of £4,467 per employee  – and results in 1 hour 24 minutes of distraction per employee each day. Interruption drains energy, kills creativity and dampens performance, leading to the dreaded brain fog that can be so debilitating.
“Answering an unexpected call is perhaps one of the most common interruptions that can disrupt the flow of work. When we shift gears, our mind must firstly stop processing what we were doing before refocusing on the new task. Therefore, even a seemingly quick distraction can totally throw concentration off course. Plus, when we’re interrupted, we rarely go back to what we were doing beforehand.
The pandemic has forced the issue of availability into the spotlight – particularly as firms grappled with making sure client care wasn’t compromised despite the challenges of sudden and enforced remote working. But firms must maintain balance.
Bernadette said: “As a business we talk a lot about availability and making sure businesses are available when clients need them – but there is value in being unavailable too. Businesses need to actively help their employees ringfence time for the quiet head down working that is so important to productivity as well as employees’ feeling of accomplishment and control.
“They must also actively promote and support wellbeing – whether that’s through counselling programmes, cooking lessons, financial education, buddy systems or initiatives such as FBC Manby Bowdler’s recent 10-day #techtimeout project – which encouraged staff to simply ‘switch off’ devices for 15 minutes each day.”
The last 12 months have taught us some vital lessons – perhaps most significantly, that health is wealth and protecting a workforce’s mental state must sit at the top of every legal firms’ agenda. Bernadette added: “Good housekeeping is the foundation of improved wellbeing. That needs to span internal practices and respect for colleagues, improved meeting etiquette and the right level of internal and external communications support. Together, these can help to reduce the unwanted interruptions that can prove so disruptive.”
Formalise meeting etiquette
With the rise of video calls, it can be tempting to just book them in without the level of scheduling that would have gone into a physical meeting – particularly when travel is not required. Video meetings afford flexibility but try to avoid unplanned meetings, or those that don’t stick to time. When meetings do occur, always use an agenda to stay on topic and issue companywide ‘meeting etiquette’ to help engender positive change and an empowered approach to time management.
If staff know there’s the right infrastructure in place to support them, it can reduce worry. For example, if staff know all customer calls will be handled warmly, professionally and efficiently, even when they’re busy or in a meeting, it can instil calm and focus without a ringing phone breaking their concentration. Outsourced telephone answering, switchboard and outbound follow-up support is the ideal solution for keeping interruptions to a minimum while maintaining client/customer experience.
Choose technology that aligns
Streamline the number of video and project management platforms in use across the company so that employees come to ‘know them’ and don’t lose time loading different systems or finding multiple log-ins in-between meetings and tasks. There’s real value in keeping it simple and choosing technology that has wider value – for example, our telephone answering system has a Microsoft Teams integration which means call handlers know who’s available and when. The result – less interruption for busy staff and a better client experience.
Diaries aren’t just for meetings. Encourage employees to use their diaries to block manage their time, include tasks and add detail about whether they’re available or need quiet time. By making sure that front of house, reception or outsourced teams have access to these diaries it’s possible to give employees the space they need to look after themselves, be productive and thrive.
The last 12 months have been all about business survival and adaptability, but the importance of people and how to protect and nurture their wellbeing and performance must not be overlooked. Interruption is dangerous. It affects concentration, productivity, happiness and health. Companies that fail to address the costly repercussions of interruption will fail to get the most out of their greatest asset of all.