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Work spaces: 3 steps to fix them to reduce employee distractions

Redesign your company’s work environment for maximum productivity
By Andre Lavoie |




Distractions at your workplace can plague your entire workforce. And, here, office design plays a crucial role. You want a happy, productive workplace, of course. But perspectives on how to create one may be sharply divided when you compare the opinions of workers with those of leaders.


A 2016 Oxford Economics study, for example, found a gap between how both groups viewed their workplace experience: 63 percent of executives surveyed said they thought their employees had the tools needed to filter out distractions, whereas only 41 percent of employees agreed with that belief.



In short, distraction is a problem which employers in the survey believed could be handled. Employees, however, disagreed and said they felt stuck in a struggle to focus on their work.


So maybe it’s time to listen and take action, to set workers up for success. Here are some ideas on how to create an environment that reduces distractions and encourages productivity:



1. Ask for feedback

Ask for input from employees. They are the ones who need to reduce distractions more than anyone else.


Employers can’t make impactful changes without some direction. Without feedback, they will continue to live in ignorance. What is causing such adisconnect?


The answer is that the two groups live in different worlds. The Oxford Economics study found that 62 percent of executives have private offices compared to just 14 percent of employees in the study. Also, 59 percent of executives had the tools they needed to work anywhere, versus just 40 percent of employees.



It’s time, then, to step into the shoes of your workforce to get a deeper understanding of what is causing so much distraction. These insights can lead to solutions for improving your office design and empowering your staff to stay productive.


2. Offer privacy

Why should companies invest in creating an environment that is conducive to private work as well as collaboration? Distractions and interruptions are very costly.


A November 2014 Steelcase study of 10,500 workers in Europe, North America and Asia found that employees surveyed got interrupted every 11 minutes, and it took them up to 23 minutes to get back into the "flow," the state where people are deeply engaged. Those who wanted to work in "flow" needed some personal space. Ninety-five percent said that working privately was important to them, but only 41 percent could actually do so, and 31 percent said they had to leave the office to get their work completed.



The conclusion here may be to consider a redesign, to give employees more privacy. Open space offices, while in vogue, can be detrimental to productivity. It’s hard to get work done when the chatter of cubicle neighbors bounces off walls and invades each person’s private space.


Loud, open spaces are best for collaborative projects, but companies also need to provide individualized work areas. Provide small enclaves with phones for those who need to take calls but don’t want to disturb their neighbors.


Create smaller conference rooms to give workers a place to escape their desk for a bit to hammer through important, timely tasks. Designate "quiet rooms” throughout your office that have some distance from phones and collaborative areas.


Projecting white noise and other low-level ambient sounds to create "sound masking" can help make conversations more private and prevent distractions from others' conversations. Invest in white noise machines to cover loud office sounds like colleagues conversing, printers operating and telephones ringing.



Incorporate nature by planting or placing trees in and around the office to absorb sound. Consider an office design that incorporates outdoor settings for quiet work, with benches and cover overhead, so employees can get "out of the office," but still stay productive.


3. Provide tools for better concentration

A major complaint from employees is that they don’t have the tools needed to filter out distractions. So consider tools like Focus, to help reduce web search detours. StayFocused limits time spent on certain websites. This way, employees spend less time scrolling their Facebook feeds and more time on their upcoming presentations.


Supply them with noise-cancelling headphones so they can avoid neighboring noises. Just as white noise dampens external racket, headphones can accomplish the same thing by giving employees the opportunity to listen to music that helps them remain focused.


Share performance data to track what tasks are taking them longer than expected. This can determine what kinds of tasks are difficult for each worker and what time of day concentration starts to wane.



Offer some simple productivity insights. Introduce them to popular, effective time-management methods, like Kanban and Pomodoro, which prioritize deep concentration on single tasks, as opposed to multitasking. When employers empower their staff to stay on task, employees are motivated to remain productive and become less likely to allow office distractions to derail their flow.





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