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The realities of today’s open office and what you can do about it

The Promise Was So Strong

Hip work spaces that attract Gens Y and Z.

More cost-efficient offices that support flexible work.

Environments that encourage collaboration and innovation.

This is what companies set out to create in today’s open offices.

Goodbye cube farms, hello airy, light-filled workspaces with open pods, huddle rooms and all kinds of perks—from coffee machines and blenders to table tennis and video gaming.

Brilliant, right?

Well, not exactly.

Today’s workers love the aesthetic and vibe of the open office. More than half say they prefer an open shared floor plan office, and that number goes up steadily with younger generations. But workers are decidedly frustrated with the functional problems that come along with today’s open offices.

Instead of energized teams gathering in common spaces to brainstorm and innovate, you’re more likely to see workers getting annoyed by all the distractions that surround them—or hiding out. This is the reality for 5,151 office workers around the world we surveyed. Nearly all report being distracted while trying to work. And more than a third of workers we surveyed are always or very often distracted.

It’s amazing any work is getting done!

Why You Should Care

It's not just annoying - it's keeping workers from getting stuff done

Nearly a third of employees in open offices report that distractions cost them one hour or more of productive work time every day. Nearly half report an inability to focus while at work. Nearly three quarters of workers we surveyed say they would be more productive if office distractions were reduced. Across all countries surveyed, younger generations lose more productive work time to distraction than older workers. As these younger workers make up a larger percentage of our workforce, this challenge will only get worse.

Open office distractions damage the customer and employee experience

Workers say reducing office distractions would increase employee engagement, satisfaction, and even well-being. More than half say they have had trouble listening or being heard on calls. And nearly a quarter have appeared unprofessional to customers or clients on a call, a troubling indicator. In the age of Glassdoor, all parts of the business need to care about the employee experience and satisfaction. Daily frustrations with distractions and noisy co-workers can harm teamwork, culture, and reputation.

Why Distraction Matters: Latest Research

Productivity Takes a Hit

  • A recent review of 100+ studies on open offices found that open layouts consistently led to lower rates of concentration and focus.

  • Research by Harvard Business School Associate Professor Ethan Bernstein reveals that transitioning to an open office architecture can create an environment that’s overstimulating for employees, decreasing organizational productivity.

Employee Engagement and Well-Being Suffer

  • A widely publicized Oxford Economics Survey showed that the ability to focus without interruptions is a top priority for employees when it comes to office design, because focus is when real work happens. Access to amenities like free food was far less important.

  • According to a UC Irvine study, “People compensate for interruptions by working faster, but this comes at a price: experiencing more stress, higher frustration, time pressure, and effort.”

  • Mercer’s 2018 Global Talent Trends survey found that one in two employees would like to see a greater focus on well-being at their company. This includes an emphasis on physical and psychological well-being.

It Can Close The Gap

Most employees don’t know who at their company can best solve the open office dilemma and reduce distractions in their open offices.

Only 1 in 7 go to IT to resolve their issues with office distractions. More than half (53%) of employees go to their direct manager, while about a third go to HR or Facilities.

This is surprising, as IT typically has the ownership and access to the technologies and tools that could make the biggest reduction in noise-based distractions. Clearly this is a missed opportunity.

According to Gartner data, about two-thirds of business leaders think their companies need to speed up their digital transformation or face losing ground to competitors. Creating an adaptive, collaborative, and productive office environment is an important element in the workplace transformation underway. IT is well positioned to deliver on this vision.

IT teams should reach out across their organizations and lead the effort to minimize distractions for employees in open offices. They can help their organizations realize the upside of greater focus, productivity and employee satisfaction.

What's Distracting Workers?

The biggest open office peril? Noisy co-workers

Most employees can’t escape the noise and interruptions coming from their co-workers. Today’s new open offices have all kinds of fun spaces to work in - from shared work tables to cafeterias with free food and drinks. Even so, most people spend nearly all of the workday in their primary workspaces. And that’s typically not behind a closed door. Only a third of employees surveyed currently have a closed office to escape to during their workday.

Top 6 Office Distractions

  1. Loud-talking co-worker on the phone

  2. Office celebrations

  3. Co-workers talking nearby

  4. Table and video games

  5. Phone rings or alerts

  6. Pets in the office

Download the Poly Perils of the Open Office eBook to Read More!

- Contact Kathea for more information and pricing on our Poly solutions!

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