If you're looking forward to going back to the office, one of the things to prepare yourself for is interruptions.
Whether it's a co-worker showing you a picture of their new baby or your manager asking to chat, interruptions can be bothersome, especially when you're midway through a task. However, there are benefits to these impromptu interactions, according to a new University of Cincinnati survey in the Journal of Applied Psychology. Workplace interruptions create a sense of belonging in workers and can counterbalance the negatives of these distractions, such as lost productivity. They can even contribute to higher job satisfaction.
"As annoying as interruptions are, the value of this connection is more valuable than the distractor factor," says Lisa Marie Bobby, psychologist and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching in Denver, Colorado. "This may be even more true in post-pandemic life, where many people have a new appreciation for the day-to-day relationships that populate a life worth living."
Here's why workplace interruptions can lead to higher job satisfaction, and how to be productive no matter how chatty your co-workers are.
Primary attachments, or the bonds between parents and small children, "are not developed through magical moments," Bobby says. Instead, it's the mundane, everyday activities that forge strong relationships.
"The same is essentially true for our developing of meaningful relationships with colleagues," she says. "Noticing their body language, seeing them in times of calm and stress, getting to know the way they think, and having back-and-forth conversations in real life create relationally significant connections that are difficult to develop otherwise."
Those bonds can result in employees feeling more engaged with their jobs.
Still, it's important not to let office chatter overtake your days, says Angelina Darrisaw, a career coach and founder of C-Suite Coach: "Everything requires balance, and if you find that workplace distractions are throwing off your productivity, then it's time to be strategic about how you shift your coworkers' behavior."
If you feel frustrated about how often or the way you're being interrupted, there might be a part you're playing in the dynamic. "Your communication and lack of assertiveness may be to blame for mismanaging the distractions," Darrisaw says.
Let your colleagues know that you don't have time to chat if you don't want to be interrupted when they feel like talking. Then you can set aside some time to catch up that doesn't hamper your ability to get work done.
"Socializing at work is key to your success, but dedicated time may need to be carved out for that," she says. "It's OK to kindly ask your colleagues to chat later. Just be sure to follow up and find the time to connect after you've finished your projects."
There are also ways to visually signal to co-workers you don't want to be bothered, says Amanda Augustine, career expert at TopResume. "Something as simple as putting on your headphones, even if you're not playing music, can communicate to co-workers that you don't wish to be interrupted."
If you know you'll have a heavy workload the upcoming week, book a conference room, she suggests. And if you're working remotely, you can block off time on your calendar for "heads-down work" and set yourself to "away" on Slack or whatever messaging system your company uses.
Next time you notice a co-worker headed your way while you're in the zone, it can be helpful to remember that these impromptu interactions offer relief from a chaotic day and can improve your mental health, Darrisaw says.
And there might be some tangible benefits as well, she adds: "Building relationships at work gives you the advantage of learning first about special opportunities, resources, and more."
Besides, if you're going to be in the office, it will serve you best to have good relationships with your co-workers. As a result, you might enjoy your days a little more.
"We spend more time at work than we do at home," Darrisaw says. "And as the saying goes, most people do not quit their job. Instead, they quit their boss or the company culture."
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