3 Ways to Help Employees Think (and Work) Better

Dustin Staiger

6,000 workers were recently asked, “Where do you do your best thinking?” The study was conducted by David Rock’s NeuroLeadership Group, an institute formed to help people and companies better understand how the brain functions. Findings from the study spell bad news for executives who need their employees to think critically: only 10% of employees tend to do their best thinking while at work.

When the average manager is interrupted once every 8 minutes and the average employee spends 28% of his or her time at work dealing with distractions, it’s not difficult to believe there is a shortage of efficiency in office environments. “In 2004,” Rock says, “I found that brain research provided a missing piece in our understanding of how to be more effective leaders, managers or coaches.”

The average employee spends 28% of his or her time at work dealing with distractions.

After working with leaders and neuroscientists, Rock coined the term “NeuroLeadership,” the application of findings from neuroscience to the field of leadership. His 2009 book, “Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long” travels inside the brain to sort out the vast quantities of information with which employees are bombarded in an attempt to figure out how to prioritize, organize and act on that information. Here are 3 opportunities presented in Rock’s research that you should be giving your employees.

1. The Opportunity to Focus When They Need To

“Research is showing that people who use a lot of media, two screens at once and who multitask actually become more distracted and worse at multitasking,” says Rock, “In fact, the more you multitask, the worse you get at it.” To combat the bad distractions in order to focus more purely, Rock suggests incorporating good distractions like taking a walk or changing the scenery.

Most employees spend over a quarter of their time dealing with interruptions in the workplace. In her piece for Forbes magazine, Lisa Earle McLeod pointed out that the best thing an executive can do for an employee’s ability to focus. It’s cutting down on the interruptions and distractions by strategically planning meetings or collaborative employee interactions in a manner that won’t cut the flow of those trying to focus.

Rock’s study states that only 6 hours of pure focus are possible for the average employee during any given week. To make sure those hours are bringing proper returns, Rock says we need to stop interrupting our workers unless we absolutely have to, while enabling them to interrupt themselves with re-calibrating tasks such as going on walks or moving locations. “There’s no one optimal environment. Even for an individual in a particular role, the optimum environment changes across the day, across the week.”

2. The Opportunity to Collaborate When They Need To

“There are times when we need to be able to completely shut out the world and not be distracted at all. There are also times,” Rock says, “when we want to work around other people and sense that buzz, such as in a café.” Balancing out private focus spaces with open layouts and high-energy environments is just as important for getting work done.

The optimum environment changes across the day, across the week.

After 30 years of hard work in organizational architecture, Voss Graham noted the importance of creating spaces where many employees can come together, “High energy areas create a sense of urgency. Productivity is expected to be high and the bar is raised for high performance.” Your employees will get to know one another better and increase rapport by accomplishing tasks together.

3. The Opportunity to Have Great Social Interactions

Another healthy side effect of collaborative environments is the opportunity to have great social interactions. While this initially doesn’t appear to boost performance among your employees, the element
of healthy relationship is necessary, according to Rock’s research, in motivating employees to come to work excited.

“Social interactions are delicious things to the brain…and we need to learn to create time and space, perhaps to switch things off, to do deeper thinking.” To create a work environment where good work gets done by people who want to keep coming back, Rock says social time is among the most important, yet most often neglected type of activity. Chances are you’ve been interrupted in some way while you’ve been reading this article.

We need to learn to create time and space to do deeper thinking.

To help employees dial in, create opportunities for them with private offices, huddle rooms, or perhaps Brody WorkLounges where workers can focus on individual work. Offer meeting spaces and workstations where teams can easily share ideas and innovate together. Work Cafés and inviting break areas provide gathering places where workers from different teams can interact and create social connections important to workplace satisfaction. Not only does this help employees think and work, but research shows options like this give workers choices and control over how they work, increasing workplace satisfaction.