cubicles

The three biggest workplace distractions

June 12, 2013: 12:23 PM ET

It seems most people would rather come in to an office than work from home, but they wish coworkers would stop wasting their time.

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FORTUNE -- The weather outside your office window is inviting, the kids are home from school and getting up to who knows what, and your long-awaited vacation starts pretty soon. Is it any wonder that employee productivity takes a dive every summer? Still, according to a new survey by Ask.com of 2,060 adults employed full-time in the U.S., the three biggest drains on productivity have nothing to do with the time of year.

"The research yielded some unexpected findings," notes Lisa Ross, Ask.com's vice president of human resources. "For one thing, while telecommuting policies have been hotly debated in the media lately, it seems most office workers would rather be in an office, as long as companies provide an environment that provides for solitary 'focus time' with minimal distractions."

Almost all of the survey respondents -- 89% -- said they are most productive when working alone, but only 29% would prefer to telecommute. The most common distraction in the office, cited by 63%, is "loud colleagues." (Noise-cancelling headphones, anyone?)

About 40% say they'd get a lot more done if coworkers would quit stopping by to chat, and nearly one in four (24%) complain that they "spend more time in meetings talking about work than actually doing it," the study says. In order to keep "idle chatter" to a minimum, 46% mainly use email, IM, or phone to communicate even with people who sit right next to them.

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And speaking of who's in the next cubicle, if you're a manager, consider this: Some of your direct reports may wish you'd sit farther away. The survey found that 38% "would rather do unpleasant activities -- like opt for more work on their plates, sit next to someone who eats noisily, or take on a longer commute -- than sit next to their boss."

What's up with that? "The fact that almost 40% of respondents would rather take on more work than sit by a manager suggests that this isn't about wanting distance from the boss so they can goof off," says Ross. "Instead, I think it underscores the idea of craving focus time, away from both chatty peers and micromanagers, to really maximize output."

It may also be, she adds, that "in an increasingly meeting-heavy office culture, people feel they're getting more than enough face time with their higher-ups." So if somebody requests a move to a cubicle way down the hall, it's (probably) nothing personal.

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