Distracting interactions vs. healthy interactions — tune your ears and decide
Our work environment is a combination of many variables. Some related to the office ambience and the company’s culture, others are influenced by the social atmosphere or the individuals that form a team. Therefore, trying to decompose our workplace to measurable dimensions is challenging.
Nonetheless, I’d like to focus on one aspect: interactions. To be more precise, the loud interactions between peers and colleagues. The simple equation is: more interactions produce more noise 🤓, especially in an open environment at the workplace.
Two Teams, Two Cultures
In the last few years, I have been fortunate to relocate and work in another country. I personally manage teams in two different regions. Although each team is physically located elsewhere, they are similar in many aspects. Their physical offices are structured in cubicles, both collaborate on the same project, develop under the same infrastructure and serve the same customer.
In spite of these similarities, there is one fundamental characteristic that distinguishes them: the way peers communicate and interact, especially the loudness of conversations and discussions.
I didn’t consider this variance as substantial until the two teams happened to physically work under the same roof.
I had a light-bulb insight at our last major deployment💡. Both teams converged to support the rollout of a new release. I remember this scene vividly. While looking at the staff working side by side, the contrast reflected clearly: each team interacted internally, but the discourse manner was significantly different. One team was mainly interacting one-on-one quietly, whereas the other team was more loudly and its inner-interaction were across members.
Since everyone was working next to each other, discussions between peers were exposed to all. For the team that interacted quietly, the other team’s interactions interpreted as noisy. However, for the louder team, it was a normal interactive routine.
Labeling interactions as noise depends on the situation and the eyes of the beholder.
Obviously different cultures interact differently, that goes without saying. However, what intrigued me was the outcome of this contrast. Which team works more effectively?
To be (interactive), or not to be. That is the question
Working in a quiet environment reduces distractions. Thus, an individual can complete solitary tasks more efficiently as originally planned. On the other hand, wide-open discussions can excite ideas, which can stimulate new conceptions and improvements, all the way to achieving a better solution.
So, which way to choose: talks in the open-air or milder interactions done privately?
Let’s see some benefits and drawbacks of each interaction way. The point of view would be looking at efficiency as a metric.
Pros: Loud Interactions Can Increase the Effectiveness
In some cases, unsolicited interactions are beneficial and contribute to performing better.
1. Catching informal communication
Formal interactions, such as meetings or emails exchange, are useful for conveying messages or sharing thoughts, however, the content is mostly retained among the participants or the recipients.
Nevertheless, much of our workplace communication is done informally and discussions happen while the work is in process. If you happen to catch floating information or concepts in time, it can open your mind and provide a more comprehensive solution.
For example, let’s assume you and your teammate are working on a common API. The API’s contract has been agreed. You are responsible for the server side and she takes the client side. From this point onward, each of you can work independently.
After a while, a new requirement is added to the client side, which is not related directly to your API server implementation. Formally, this requirement has nothing to do with your back-end service, but if you happen to hear about it, you can enhance your server and support the new features.
2. Fostering New Ideas
In some situations, vibrant interactions are essential to propel new ideas. Spontaneous brain-storming meetings or side-discussions that arose from a corridor chat can lead to insights or solving intricate problems.
For instance, trying to solve a problem in a production environment that no one understands its cause. Chatting about the problem while interacting with peers can ring a bell to someone.
Maybe someone will hear something that triggers an idea, which leads to a solution. This solution might not be achieved if the discussion was done in closed doors.
3. Quick Responses — Fast Progress
Developers like to work quickly and reach the deadline as fast as possible. Hindrances in the form of small inquiries or problems along the way are given, and thus quick answers are useful. Searching google or sending an email to colleagues is an option, but doesn’t assure a prompt remedy.
On the other hand, asking your teammate is much easier and convenient. Your buddy is two meters from you, won’t you ask him a question and receive an immediate response? Sure you will 😎. These instant communications make the whole team runs faster.
So, maybe it is worthy to work in a noisy vibrant environment? The team can thrive as it enjoys knowledge sharing and a creative atmosphere, followed by achieving better results.
Cons: Noisy Interactions Reduce Performance
Distractions in the workplace affect our productivity, predominantly when referring to noise or loud conversations.
1. Context-switching is Costly
Distractions are costly mainly because of the context-switching phenomenon. Our human brain is an amazing organ in many aspects, but it does not have the capabilities of a computer’s central processing unit (CPU). Shifting from one topic to another is costly. While a hardware-based CPU does it magnificently, our brain can’t cope efficiently with it.
After an interruption, whether it was justifiable or not, it takes time to continue a task where we’ve left it, sometimes even 10 to 15 minutes. This is wasted time.
2. Focus Your Energy and Attention Wisely
Another downside of a loud discourse environment is managing your energies. Our brain has the capacity for how much information it can grasp. Overloading it with information can downgrade the performance. Hence, more interactions can be harmful, as we might be processing useless data rather than saving energy for essential tasks.
3. Taking the Wrong Turn
Besides brain related aspects, unfiltered interactions may divert us from progressing in the right direction since we took the wrong turn.
For example, if you happen to hear about a new feature the other team develops, you might infer it is related to your task. Consequently, you can invest time in examining this new input. Sometimes, this information turns to be misleading, inaccurate or just irrelevant for your task. In this case, exploring it was a waste of valuable time.
To recap, executing tasks while being focused, without distractions, leads to better performance. Your productivity and quality rise when you’re “in the zone”.
Thus, maybe working in a quiet complacent environment is the key to soar and be more effective?
Last Words: You Have Two Ears — use Them to Balance
On the one hand, noisy talks can cultivate new ideas, invoke creative solutions, facilitate knowledge sharing, or reveal overlooked issues. On the other hand, the same type of interactions can distract and reduce productivity. Eventually, it is a matter of balance to find an effective path to increasing productivity.
My retrospect of past experiences, at both teams, has raised scenarios when loud interactions could have prevented problems only if knowledge was exposed to all teammates. Contrastingly, the other team could have gain more from a quieter complacent environment.
Being aware of this notion raises the awareness to consider which environment will increase your team’s effectiveness.
I leave you with this thought. How does it resonate with you and your team?