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5 Ideas to reduce office distractions and improve productivity

Looking back 10 years ago, the challenges for companies in designing offices were very different of those today. If there was a “head office”, then proximity to conurbations, quality of transport links was a prerequisite.

For workforces where the team remained mostly in the same centrally located building, space management was a key issue. It was a juggling act of maximizing the number of people in the minimum amount of space, whilst still remaining functional. If an employee was desk-bound the majority of the day, then the design requirements steered towards sustained comfort.

Since then, driven by collaborative and social media technologies, the workplace has changed and the attitudes of office workers have changed evolved too.

For some organisations the ideal will continue to be a centralised workplace, whereas others are adopting a more informal but collaborative space where ideas can be exchanged.

Instead of somewhere people have to go to, the modern office is somewhere people choose to go to. Staff are now customers whose time is to be competed for. If your home is a more enjoyable and fulfilling place to work than the office, you’ll choose to stay at home. An example of this is the Instagram office in California which has been described by Fortune Magazine as ‘selfie worthy’.

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Here’s our 5 ideas for reducing office distractions:

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1. Reduce Office Noise Levels

Ambient noise levels quickly build, especially in open plan offices where sound can travel over large distances. White noise can be deployed in targeted areas of a noisy office but a more practical approach is to reduce the noise levels generated by every day office working practices.

  • If your photocopier or printer is noisy get it serviced. Or, if your paper shredders are distracting switch them out for new quieter models and be sure to keep them maintained with regular oiling.
  • If impromptu corridor meetings are too frequently becoming a source of distraction for everybody’s liking get to the route of what’s causing the need for the meeting in the first place. Is time allocated to more formal meetings being used as productively as it should be?
  • If you find yourself being interrupted far too often for your liking, say something. Otherwise a good tactic is to plug in your headphones to give a visual cue that you’re trying to focus and block out office noise distractions.
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2. Disable Social Media Notifications

Emails, phone calls and intranet systems all typically generate enough notifications and alerts to distract most office workers. Add to this supported corporate tools such as Skype for Business or Workplace by Facebook, and it’s often hard to focus on the task in hand without unplugging the ethernet cable from your laptop or disabling the WiFi!

Perhaps it’s time to consider your app and social media notification settings. If you find yourself being distracted by Whatsapp, Facebook and LinkedIn notifications that aren't adding value to your day try disabling them for a few days.

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3. Clear Desktop Clutter

The personal environment of employees has a big impact on productivity. More and more organisations are paying attention to the desks of their workers and implementing clean-desk policies.

This is a set of rules determining how workers should conduct their working spaces, such as organising files, streamlining sticky notes and keep stationery tidy.

Having a clear desk is a fantastic first step in increasing productivity, but could organisations do more? Sit-stand work stations are being utilised by many companies. Not only are they said to increase productivity, but they also improve the posture and back pain associated with sitting at a desk that many employees live with daily. This discomfort can be extremely distracting and can see staff signed off from work for periods of time.

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4. Cater for the “Search for Food”

Office workers seeking to satisfy their hunger with desk snacks often wander to the office vending machine.  This journey can create noise in itself but it’s the effects of the sugary peaks delivered by sweets, chocolates and fizzy drinks that are a far higher cause for concern and source of office distraction.

Offering fruit and nuts to staff that will release energy slowly will be a perk staff would appreciate.

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5. Hot Desk & Meeting Room Connectivity Issues

Nothing has more of a direct impact on productivity than connectivity issues. Forgotten power adapters, missing ethernet cables and requests for the guest WiFi password are common occurrences that cause distractions in many conference rooms and workplaces.

  1. Consider providing universal docking stations on your hot desks so that visitors don’t need to waste time trying to connect to a keyboard and monitor.
  2. Place laminated log-on instruction on each hot desk.
  3. Make sure that each meeting room has a selection of HDMI, USB-C, Thunderbolt and Mini DisplayPort adapters so that everyone can connect to the meeting room projector without setting in motion a game of treasure hunt involving everyone within the office!
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Open office issues

Over the last 40 years the most popular office layouts have been cubicles and open plan – both present drawbacks. Cubicles can be cramped, impersonal and office noise can be distracting for workers when they cannot see where it is coming from.

Open plan offices have the benefits of creating a collaborative space, as well as giving management a visual audit of who is doing what. The most widely reported disadvantages are noise from phone calls, general office chatter, machinery noises and lack of privacy. There are also issues with shared light and heat.

Organisational psychologist Matthew Davis found that decreased levels of concentration and increased incidence of stress are far more common in open layout offices. At the same time, the Queensland University of Technology claims that 90% of studies show open plan associated with higher levels of stress and blood pressure.

Leitz asked an 800-person sample what their preferred office space would look like.

Research presented that 25% work in an enclosed single person office - a relatively senior profile - but over 50% would have an enclosed office as their preferred environment.

Office workers are increasingly retreating into their own internal space by reaching for their noise reduction headphones where they don’t have the opportunity to find noise isolation in a private office. Whilst only 25% of respondents said this is acceptable where they work, it should be viewed in the context of the rise of millennials in the workplace. For them, headphones and ear buds to stop noise are part of an everyday work uniform.

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Office Productivity

The average employee is interrupted every 3 minutes in an office environment. Given this high level of disruption in the work place, it is ironic that employers have tended to be more concerned about distractions when staff work remotely, and specifically when they work from home.

In fact, the Leitz research revealed that the lack of interruptions is actually the second most important benefit derived from home working, second to not having to commute. The liberation of ‘Everywhere Working’ can be daunting. But, if your output falls in quality and quantity after working remotely, someone is bound to notice. It’s probably best for your career if the first person to spot it is you.

Research conducted by Ipsos and the Workspace Futures Team of Steelcase showed that 85% of employees in USA, Europe and Asia find it difficult to concentrate at work.

Considering that people are employed to work, it is a discouraging result. Of those surveyed, virtually all said working privately was important to them but only 41% said they were offered this opportunity. A further 1 in 3 of those asked had to leave the office to get work completed.

This is in line with findings from Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace, which found that only 10% of workers around the world are engaged and inspired at work, with 2 in 3 feeling disengaged and unmotivated. At the same time, those who spend up to 20% of their time working remotely are the most engaged of all workers surveyed. No wonder, you might think, that 35% of our Leitz sample would prefer to spend more time working outside the office in the interests of delivering better results.

The good news for people who spend the majority of their time at a central location is that modern office designers are recognising the shortcomings of the conventional office.

Office design of the past was functionally oriented. Fitting as many people in, in the most efficient way was the aim. Today, a more humanistic approach is evolving. Think of a club, but where the main activity is work. This doesn’t necessarily mean that companies are putting workers first from a position of conscience. However, they do realise that happier workers will be more efficient and less distracted.

Happy and satisfied employees tend to take less time off and are more motivated to turn up to work. They are also likely to be prouder of where they work and who they work for. All this means they are less likely to defect to a competitor with newer, more user-friendly premises

So what tricks have businesses learnt when trying to create productive work spaces? How can they meet the needs of today’s modern worker while reducing workplace distractions?

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