How to Use Digital Etiquette to Combat Digital Distraction

"Digital disruption" is one of the newest buzzy phrases, usually positioned in a positive light. Digital disruptive companies are known for challenging traditional business models with technology-enabled processes. These companies generate significant revenues and followings at the expense of their competitors (e.g., Uber, Amazon, and Airbnb). 

In the workplace, digital disruption can have a more negative meaning. The very technology that businesses are using to support productivity can fundamentality destroy it. 

In the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic, more companies than ever are going digital. Learn how can you harness the best of digital transformation without creating unnecessary digital interruptions that destroy creativity, productivity, and morale. 

→ Download the Digital Etiquette and Boundaries eBook by C5 Insight

Let's discuss how to efficiently communicate in a distracted, digital workplace.


Digital Workplaces Are Here to Stay

First, we need to recognize that our new digital workplaces are here to stay. Leadership needs to help teams adapt and adopt best practices. In addition, it's crucial to acknowledge that the days when we worked out of one inbox on our screen, or desk, are over. 

 

The additions of enterprise social channels, collaboration sites, file-sharing services, chat windows, mobile devices, and more can quickly lead to workdays spent on nothing but reacting to notifications. 


Figure 1: An overview of work time lost daily due to digital disruptions


The good news? Both habits and tools are available to help you establish a culture of digital respect in your workplace.


How to Establish Digital Workplace Etiquette

The rules for digital etiquette may vary from one organizational culture to the next. But they should always come down to these two factors: 1) urgency of the communication and 2) emotional nature of the content.  


Here are some high-level examples of how your team could agree on a practical digital communications plan ranked from lowest urgency to highest:


1. Enterprise Social Channels: For low-urgency matters, post to a social channel like Microsoft Teams (MS Teams), Yammer, Slack, etc.


2. Recurring Meetings: Another option for low-urgency communication is to hold the topic for a recurring meeting, such as a weekly team video call or daily stand-up. Recurring meetings are great communication tools and a perfect way to consolidate non-urgent communications into a short period – freeing up more time to get focused work done. 


3. Email: As collaboration apps such as MS Teams and Slack move through the adoption process in your organization, you will find that the role (and priority) of emails will change. Initially, many people may still use email as their to-do list – responding to requests for action in other channels might be a significant struggle. 

 

Social channels may be used more often to communicate "FYI's" or needs for group interaction. But expect to migrate more communication away from email to get the full benefits of collaboration apps as time goes by. 


4. Schedule a Meeting: If an item can't wait for a scheduled meeting or an email response, but it isn't so urgent that it requires an interruption, offer the courtesy of finding a mutually available time slot and scheduling a time to talk in advance.


5. Chat Message: Chat messages have, unfortunately, become our go-to solution if we have a quick question. Chat used to be called "instant messaging," but another way to think of them is "instant interruptions." Would you walk into your co-worker's office and start talking if they were on a call? Of course not! But we do it all the time with chat. 

 

Is the matter you need to address something that can't wait for a meeting or email response? Then chat might be appropriate. Is the communication less urgent, but it would be helpful to get an answer right away? Then, at a minimum, check the other person's status to see if they are available before interrupting their work day. 


6. Phone Call: Phone calls (via physical phone or social app) are also interruptive, but if the matter is urgent or negative emotions are involved (e.g., negative feedback or bad news), the personal touch is important. 


7. Drop-In: We are entirely in the "urgent" territory now. If the conversation absolutely can't wait, and can't be addressed via other channels, an office/cubicle drop-in may be necessary. 


8. Text/Mobile Call: Only after exhausting every other possible means of communication about work-related matters should you contact a co-worker on a personal or mobile device. 


Finally, always consider the emotional tone of your messages. Make every effort to deliver troubling or negative communications face-to-face or via a personal means of communication, such as a phone call. 

 

On the flip side, positive and celebratory news can and be shared with larger teams and disseminated digitally when appropriate.

 

Enforcing Digital Workplace Boundaries

Setting etiquette expectations can help minimize disruption, and training individuals to enforce boundaries can close the loop. Here are a few tips to help you get started:

  • Set and respect chat status indicators, such as "Do Not Disturb" and "In a meeting."
  • Help team members establish the correct intervals they should be checking into the various channels your organization uses (note: these may vary by role). 

- Emails: 2x/day
- Internal social channel: 1x/day
- Chat: Real-time

  • Turn off alerts for non-urgent channels to prevent digital interruptions. Those little "dings" create a Pavlovian response in your brain that interrupts your train of thought even if you choose not to look. Yes, this includes email and your mobile device. 

  • Block "focus time" on your calendar. (Pro Tip: If you're using Outlook, use "Insights" to connect your focus time throughout social channels and update your statuses automatically). 

  • Require links to related documents to respond. Attachments help the recipient not waste time searching and facing potential distractions, so they can get right into what they need and right back out into active work time again.

Start Implementing Digital Etiquette and Boundaries Today

We recently worked with a client who has urged team members not to send "Thank you" messages via email, chat, or other channels. Their decision may conflict with your sense of etiquette (or even just good manners), but think about all of the work messages you've received in the last week. 

How many were quick, well-meaning "Thank you!" or "Got it!" types of replies, which may only have served as another interruption? Save time and communication clutter by establishing a digital etiquette rulebook for your teams.

Want a helpful guide to reduce digital disruptions in your organization?

→ Download the Digital Etiquette and Boundaries eBook by C5 Insight