- Small talk makes workers happier but disrupts their focus, according to the results of a June 2020 study by Rutgers and the University of Exeter Business School. "The polite, ritualistic, and formulaic nature of small talk is often uplifting yet distracting," researchers concluded.
- Researchers surveyed a number of groups, including employed adults and students earning master's degrees. Workers who demonstrated more "self-monitoring" experienced fewer of the negative effects of small talk on their work engagement, the study revealed. And employees who participated in small talk more frequently experienced more positive emotions and, ultimately, improved well-being, according to a University of Exeter write-up of the research.
- Office chatter is "difficult to replicate" in remote work settings, Jessica Methot, study co-author and Rutgers University associate professor, told the University of Exeter, where she also serves as an associate professor. "The idea of small talk is that it's spontaneous and that there's a shared interaction where we come into contact with each other and share that interaction face to face," she said. "It's really hard to replicate its value when you're not located in the same setting."
The research is not the first to highlight how office chit-chat at once bolsters and disrupts productivity. Nearly a third of respondents to a 2018 Robert Half study named chatting and socializing as their biggest workplace distractions.
But distractions don't disappear when a worker is removed from the workplace. Results of a more recent Robert Half study showed that a quarter of participants chose not to use remote work benefits because distractions would tank their productivity. This research predates the pandemic, which has heightened both the use of remote work and remote worker distractions. As workers traded in-office distractions for those inherent in their homes, many reported a sense of disconnectedness.
It follows that productivity has been a major concern for employers, especially those that sent workforces home amid growing coronavirus concerns. To address these concerns, managers must increase vigilance and compassion, sources previously told HR Dive. Some employers have opted to monitor employees' productivity using video, audio, screenshots and other technologies. Though common, some sources have criticized this approach, arguing that employers' can track productivity by focusing on deliverables, a method that boosts employee-employer trust.