Out of Office: Potential $1.2 Trillion Opportunity in Improving Focus in Knowledge Work, Shows Study Commissioned by Dropbox

The Economist Intelligence Unit (“The EIU”) announced the results of a research study commissioned by Dropbox analyzing the macroeconomic cost of lost focus, the level at which knowledge workers feel they can focus, and what helps and hinders them. In response to the abrupt shift to remote work among knowledge workers due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the EIU also conducted an accompanying survey on the impacts the transition has had on knowledge workers.

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Dropbox also announced its plan to become a Virtual First company, an approach that provides the increased flexibility of working in distributed teams while maintaining meaningful access to in-person engagement.

Costs of Lost Focus

Focused attention is one of the key components of a knowledge-driven economy, essential for creativity, problem-solving, and productivity. For many knowledge workers, however, the reality of their work days is a series of interruptions that prevent them from finding time for deep focus.

“Focus is the engine of knowledge work,” says Michael Gold, EIU managing editor. “But increasingly people’s work lives are fragmented by distractions that increase stress, cause errors, and prevent people from doing their best work. So we set out to identify and quantify the leading causes of distractions and the implications for US knowledge workers and the data showed that the leading causes of distraction are associated with being in-the-office. While the costs to US companies in lost productivity are substantial, there is also huge upside to helping knowledge workers find their focus.”

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The EIU found that 28% of working hours in knowledge work are lost to distractions in the US, an average of 581 hours per knowledge worker annually. Among the most taxing sources of distraction were face-to-face interruptions from colleagues about work-related tasks (cited by 34%), followed by checking, reading and responding to work-related email (29%) — with almost one-fifth of respondents checking email every few minutes and 70% checking it at least once an hour. Other sources of distraction included peripheral office distractions like phones ringing and background chatter (cited by 23%), mind wandering (23%), and work-related meetings (21%).

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