March 19, 2018

Why Productivity Can Suffer in the Open

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Why Productivity Can Suffer in the Open

Businesses have been knocking down walls to create an “open office” that fosters interaction and collaboration with coworkers. But the trend may have backfired.

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New research shows employees suffering from “visual noise,” the activity or movement around their field of vision, may experience dampened analytical thinking, creativity, and productivity.

“If we see a bunch of people gathering in our peripheral vision, we wonder, ‘What are they talking about? Did somebody get laid off? Are they coming to lay me off?’” says Sally Augustin, an environmental psychologist and principal at consulting firm Design With Science.

Some employees in a cluttered open office are finding it nearly impossible to concentrate, says Sabine Kastner, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at Princeton University.

To combat the distractions, some workers are using plants or painting their wall colors a more neutral, drab color to help eliminate some distractions in the workplace.

For example, one office is abandoning the open concept idea and now setting up offices like a labyrinth, with walls, corners and large potted and hanging plants separating employees’ desks. (Plants help block noise too.) Employees are also sitting further apart from one another. Companies are trying everything from frosted-glass panels between worker areas to “focus rooms” to oversized curved computer monitors to limit distractions.

The loss of visual privacy is the second most common complaint from employees in offices with low or no partitions between desks (noise is number one), according to a 2013 study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology of more than 42,700 workers in U.S. office buildings.

Source: “Why You Can’t Concentrate at Work,” The Wall Street Journal (May 9, 2017)