Constant Interruptions Make Remote Work Challenging

woman distracted by children working
Topic(s): job performance, work-life balance
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (2021)
Article: Working From Home During COVID-19: A Study of the Interruption Landscape
Authors: S. Leroy, A.M. Schmidt, N. Madjar
Reviewed by: David Facteau

The COVID-19 pandemic has provided unique challenges to employees, specifically in regards to remote work. For example, many employees were faced with doing their jobs and simultaneously monitoring their children who were attending school at home. New research (Leroy et al., 2021) examines how COVID-19 has affected the type and frequency of interruptions at work. 

INTERRUPTIONS AND THEIR CONSEQUENCES 

The researchers surveyed 249 US employees who were working remotely. Results indicate that employees experience more interruptions since the start of COVID-19 compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic. Further, participants report a difference in the type of interruptions that occur. Prior to the onset of the pandemic, employees more commonly experienced work-related interruptions, or those that came from coworkers or supervisors. Since the onset of the pandemic, nonwork interruptions (e.g., family-related) have become more prevalent. 

Additionally, the survey showed that women experience more interruptions than men. Interestingly, the higher level of interruptions reported by women occurred for both work and nonwork interruptions, suggesting that women in particular have paid an additional price since the onset of COVID-19. Women also experienced more interruptions prior to the pandemic, but this difference has only increased since the pandemic. 

Unsurprisingly, work interruptions were associated with reduced employee performance and higher levels of emotional exhaustion. 

PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS 

The researchers suggest multiple practical steps that employees and organizations can take to help reduce interruptions. First, the researchers suggest that organizations may want to review their work processes to reduce interruptions as much as possible. They may also consider providing resources for employees with children, such as childcare. Additionally, as women are at higher risk for both work and nonwork interruptions, organizations should explore interventions to help combat this issue. 

Finally, one additional survey finding was that employees with dedicated work spaces experience fewer interruptions. Organizations may consider providing employees with the necessary resources to develop functional home offices. 

Leroy, S., Schmidt, A. M., & Madjar, N. (2021). Working from home during COVID-19: A study of the interruption landscape. Journal of Applied Psychology, 106(10), 1448–1465.