Oxford Economics, in collaboration with Plantronics, surveyed more than 1,200 senior executives and non-executive employees from a range of industries around the world to better understand the opportunities and challenges of the modern workplace.
The Ability to Focus in the Office
Wanting to work without interruptions is a top priority for employees when it comes to office design; access to amenities like free food is far less important.
The boss does not see the problems. Nearly two-thirds of executives say employees are equipped with the tools they need to deal with distractions at work; less than half of employees agree.
At one major online retailer, leadership works hard to build a culture of openness. “People are encouraged to interact with one another, rather than hide in their cubicle,” says a senior executive at the company. The culture fits well with the company’s broader goals of encouraging open communication among management, employees, and customers. But an open-office layout can have its drawbacks: “I’d be lying if I said noise wasn’t an issue from time to time,” the executive says. “It’s a tradeoff.”
Dealing with Distractions in the Workplace
Noise and distractions present big challenges in the workplace, especially in an era of openplan layouts and telecommuting. “Ambient noise and lack of personal space can make it hard for employees to concentrate and get things done,” says Jeff Lowe, vice president of marketing at Smart Technologies, the Canada-based developer of interactive learning tools and software. As privacy dwindles, people have fewer places to escape the sounds of their coworkers’ chatter, sneezes, or phone calls. Noise from the open-plan office is picked up on calls and can distract those working from other locations, too. “All of this has led us to reimagine the workspace and productivity,” says Mr. Lowe.
These are not minor considerations. Leadership at some companies may think employees only care about bean bag chairs and free burritos, but our survey shows that most people come to work to—well, work. In fact, the ability to focus without interruptions ranks at the top of employees’ workplace wish lists, while novel amenities like onsite daycare or free food are far less important.
Privacy & Productivity
And finding quiet time is about happiness as well as productivity; more than half of employees say ambient noise reduces their satisfaction at work. Many feel compelled to solve the problem on their own, blocking out distraction through visits to the breakroom, taking walks outside, or listening to white noise and music on headsets or headphones.
The first step in fixing this issue is recognizing that it exists. But only 39% of executives say ambient noise affects their employees’ productivity, and just 33% say loud colleagues are an issue. Unsurprisingly, then, very few companies have taken meaningful steps to address the problem: noise is an afterthought in office construction, and executives overestimate employees’ ability to drown it out with the tools available to them.
Study: Oxford Economics, 2016. When the walls come down: How smart companies are rewriting the rules of the open workplace.