Redirecting Focus: Helping Virtual Teams Stay on Track

During business hours, you're not a consumer: With temptation ever-present, what do you do?

Staying focused when you work online isn’t easy. There are a million-and-one distractions a few clicks away, and if you’re not careful, your five-minute “break” turns into a wasted hour or more.

You’re not alone if you find this happening frequently to you or your team—distraction is big business. Companies like Revcontent, for example, exist to keep you clicking on content relevant to whatever you just read. Meanwhile, retail ads stalk your every move, reminding you about that great jacket you just checked out on Amazon.

The fact that you click-through means these tactics work—and that’s great news from the perspective of researching how consumers respond to content recommendations and ads. What better endorsement could there be for a service than a social media or marketing manager falling into the same trap they’ve laid for consumers?

The problem is that during business hours, you’re not a consumer—you’re a social marketer, or a systems manager or an innovation team leader. You don’t have an hour to spend down a rabbit hole of content, social posts or games. With temptation ever-present, what do you do?

Take social management off social

Some workplaces, like hospitals and other administrative fields—where online access isn’t part of the job description—simply block Internet access altogether, or limit access to internal email servers only. Employees who want to check Facebook or Instagram need to do so on their own time, from their own devices, making it trickier to get sucked in for too long.

But blocking internet access isn’t a solution for virtual teams working and communicating via the web day in and day out.

What does help are applications that take you off the platforms most likely to distract you, letting you focus on the task at hand from within their streamlined interfaces. Hootsuite, Buffer and Feedly are great examples in the social-media-management realm.

Set up feeds within these social media scheduling apps and you’ll only see the posts from relevant publications you choose—versus pics of your best friend’s cat and the latest Jimmy Fallon video tempting you to watch. Then just click to schedule the posts you like to Facebook, Twitter, etc. without having to actually go there.

Ignore your inbox for a while

Email can be just as big a distraction as social networks. You head to your inbox to find that one email explaining your next project in detail, but suddenly you’re responding to seven other messages, reading through the highlights of blog subscription updates and surfing the big sale your favorite store just announced.

Task management systems like Asana, Wrike and Due keep you from being lured by anything off-topic with inter-app messaging. This is in addition to keeping the projects and tasks—and, in Due’s case, invoices—for your entire team organized in one place.

Fight against tunnel vision

Simple distractions aren’t the only thing pulling workers’ attention away from more important tasks. Many more creative work endeavors, like innovation pursuits, are often viewed as distractions by management, even though they drive game-changing innovations to the business. While participating in innovation takes time away from employees’ core responsibilities, not involving them in your innovation process is faulty logic.

Corporate innovation programs are delivering incredible results for many businesses. In the case of Autoliv, they’re even helping save lives: “Autoliv, the world’s largest automotive safety supplier, has focused on one very important issue for over 60 years: saving lives. The $9.2 billion company develops innovative products to save 30,000 lives every year and prevent 10 times as many injuries. Innovation is one of Autoliv’s three core strategies.”

But if you just can’t get your C-suite to see the forest from the trees (and reining in those employees when it comes to harnessing ideas has proven challenging, too), one fix that takes into account both the desire to ramp up quickly and capture the attention of fickle participants are innovation apps to support idea management. These nifty bits of technology allow organizations to innovate without over-committing valuable resources and offer employees the ability to contribute ideas in a matter of moments. The amount of time everyone needs to put in is brief, yet super productive and very valuable to the organization’s long term success. Many idea-management platforms offer apps that seamlessly integrate with your current software ecosystem. It’s certainly something worth exploring.

There’s nothing wrong with taking the occasional break—on social media or otherwise—if you and your team can keep it contained to a few minutes and get right back on track.

If you can’t, consider the solutions above as a way to keep your efforts focused while on the clock. The cat videos, Walking Dead spoilers and other online nonsense will still be there when you get home. Promise.

Image courtesy of Antonio_Diaz/iStock.

@MaryCLong Mary C. Long is Chief Ghost at Digital Media Ghost. She writes about everything online and is published widely, with a focus on privacy concerns, specifically social sabotage.