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2 November 2020
Here we identify some of the main reasons why and suggest ways to mitigate distraction and create optimal environments for the production of meaningful work:
The background buzz of an office environment is generally seen as beneficial, even simulating. However, disruptive loud speech or office equipment noise is a significant detriment to focussed working.
Being located on a thoroughfare, near a tea point or shared social workplace facility causes erratic peaks in noise generation that can be disruptive to those sensitive to noise distraction. It has been found that an individual takes up to 20 minutes to regain focus after a distraction has occurred.
At desk distraction
People often use VC and other digital sharing technologies at their desks due to the lack of more appropriate alternative settings, which can cause distraction to others. Similarly, collaboration with colleagues at desk can also be highly disruptive to those working close by. The answer is to provide more appropriate settings for collaboration away from the desk along with the appropriate workplace protocols to encourage respectful behaviour and concern for others.
Lack of alternative spaces
The open plan workplace is generally regarded as a benefit to teamwork and team cohesion. However, when concentration is required open plan is not always suitable. Many individuals have indicated that they find concentrating in a noisy or busy setting difficult. This may result in sub-standard work, work that takes longer to accomplish or increased levels of stress.
Many, we have noted, take concentration tasks away from the workplace and choose to perform them at home. Workplaces can make better provision for concentration-led tasks by including dedicated quiet zones, rooms or pods.
To enable people to choose the right setting for the task in hand, mobile technology is a must yet it can add considerably to an already noisy workplace. Interestingly, those tethered by technology to a fixed desk location are far less likely to be able to perform optimally on a variety of tasks. An observation we have made post occupation in some activity-based workplaces is that individuals with an allocated fixed desk, and often fixed technology, felt that they were missing out on the benefits of agile working. This was effectively creating a disenfranchised group within an organisation.
Focus on collaboration
For a while, the focus of office design has been on deconstructing departmental siloes and encouraging meaningful team collaboration. The pendulum may now have swung too far to the detriment of focussed working. Ill-sited or inappropriate collaboration settings in the workplace can result in both noise and visual distraction. Instead, these spaces should be sited in more ‘tucked away’ locations where regular collaboration and the inevitable noise this creates, do not detract from the concentration of others.
In the face of Covid-19, our collective experience of knowledge-based work is changing. While the role of the workplace must change in response, we can be certain that concentration will always be a requisite. The greatest challenge for employers is to put more focus on the importance of concentration and to cater for it by creating workplaces that are rich in choice and flexibility. With the right approach to office interior design and activity based working – concentration and collaboration can work in harmony.
To find out more about the findings from our annual insight survey of more than 43,000 UK employees and the changes affecting the workplace, download a copy of our Annual Insight Workplace Trend Report here…
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