In many ways, businesses structure themselves around the idea of promoting employee productivity. This is unsurprising, as more productive employees inherently create more value for businesses at a lower cost, making them more profitable and more competitive.

We implement new technologies, actively develop company cultures, and provide specific employee training in the name of optimising performance. Most often, however, these efforts are centered around boosting communication and collaboration between workers. Sharing information is fundamentally a good thing, however businesses often fail to consider what they might be giving up by breaking down the barriers between us. Over the past several decades, offices have become poor places for more demanding deep work.

Productivity isn’t just about communication and collaboration. Once employees are well informed and up-to-date, they still have important, demanding tasks to perform to meet their responsibilities. In today’s constantly distracting work environment, this kind of deep work is virtually impossible to perform, and that may be impacting your business’ bottom line. To ensure that employees are able to do their best work, employers need to take steps to ensure that they provide the right conditions for it.

Businesses rely on great communication

Effective communication is the cornerstone of any effective business. It promotes innovation, improves morale, and makes businesses more productive. Because of this, our modern workplaces are centered around interconnectivity and collaboration. Everything from our technology, to our company policies and office layouts are designed to promote interaction and collaboration between coworkers. However, the constant availability this has resulted in isn’t necessary for good communication. Many of the tools businesses have embraced to improve communication have, instead, resulting in endless and unavoidable distractions.

Modern workplaces provide too much of a good thing

The modern workplace is an inherently distracting place. Email notifications, buzzing phones, interruptions from coworkers, and the simple constant movement of the people around us in an open-plan office can make it virtually impossible to retain any real focus for an extended period of time. As a result, we spend all day managing distractions instead of doing the most important parts of our jobs.

Distractions keep us busy without making us productive

While we are surrounded by distractions, it’s easy to feel like we’re working hard. After all, we often feel extremely busy when we’re trying to answer emails while managing an open chat window, a ringing phone, and questions from a coworker at the same time. However, business does not make us more productive. A data analyst in this type of environment, for example, could easily get through an entire day without addressing any of their core responsibilities. To do that, they need to be able to concentrate for an extended period of time without distractions.

Promote deep work without sacrificing interconnectivity

Businesses need to provide their workers with the conditions necessary to allow for deep work. That means allowing them to eliminate distractions when they need to so they can focus to get important work done. At the same time, it’s important to keep up good communication within an organisation.

A good way to do this is to provide employees with places and times at which they can be free of distractions, while maintaining the high-interconnectivity environment the rest of the time. Most workers can only concentrate intently enough for deep work for up to 4 hours a day, so there is inherently room in the workday for less intense distraction-tolerant shallow work. To provide that distraction-free environment, businesses can even reach for some of the same technologies that otherwise distract us.

Eliminating distractions for deep work

Flexible work arrangements can be very helpful for providing workers with a quiet place to get things done. Employees can, for example, be encouraged to silence all electronic notifications and to telecommute from home to complete deep work, deferring all communications for a few hours. Alternatively, businesses can set quiet times during the work day, during which others aren’t to be disturbed, or provide quiet areas in the office, where people can go to avoid distractions.

Bringing deep work back into the workplace isn’t a matter of rolling back the past several decades of progress. Instead, it’s about adapting to the challenges that have arisen from yesterday’s progress. Deep work isn’t just about making employees more productive, it’s about giving them the work environment they need to do the most demanding —and important— parts of their jobs. By addressing this issue, businesses can make their employees and themselves fundamentally more effective.