Tag: concentration

How to regain your office productivity

Focusing in the office has long been difficult, especially since companies became evangelical about knocking down walls in the name of open plan collaboration and lowering costs. But now, after nearly two years at home for many people, the return can feel almost designed to undermine your productivity.

“We have to relearn how to work in an office for eight hours,” says Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap, one of South Africa’s largest workplace design consultancies.

“It brings into stark relief just how noisy and disruptive the office can be. Our remote work settings certainly weren’t always havens of peace and concentration either – but many of us adjusted.

“Now, sitting near our co-workers again feels odd: there’s so much movement, collaboration and talk. Background noises now seem to sound louder. Co-workers have 18 months of gossip to share. There are still dozens of Zoom calls clogging your calendar and your commute now eats into the hour you once used to tame your inbox.”

So how do you get work done?

Trim noted the problem is when we’re just using our brains to think it looks like we’re not doing anything. “You need a signal that tells your colleagues that you’re working.

“Close the door if you have one, put on headphones, attach a flag to your desk and flip it up when you’re heads-down on a project,” Trim advised.

“Then, honour and reinforce the signal. If someone knocks, politely tell them you’re busy and ask them to come back when the door is open. If you’re a manager, try creating office hours, periods where your team can come to you for help.”

Trim pointed out that she is advising many companies on office redesigns to meet the now even greater need for people to have quiet spaces for work. “Before Covid, managers didn’t always see the need for quiet places for uninterrupted working but now it’s what workers expect. Many companies are putting in additional focus rooms to allow people in specific areas to work uninterrupted or to take zoom calls in the office.”

Employees who have some flexibility on their in-office days can also use hybrid schedules to their advantage.

“Save work that requires deep concentration for home. And certain tasks – editing a shared document with colleagues, tackling confidential conversations – are also better done remotely,” Trim says.

But the office is now even more essential for bonding time: there is a really pent up need now for people to reconnect with colleagues and meet new colleagues for the first time.

“There needs to be some type of outlet for workers to talk and socialise. We as humans have an evolutionary need to feel a sense of belonging. Relationships grew too transactional when everything was online,” says Trim.

“Meeting face-to-face has helped people be more honest with one another and assume good intentions when projects hit snags for instance.”

She adds it was also particularly important for younger, less experienced workers to get back to the office to learn from senior colleagues while absorbing the company culture.

Offices don’t just have an aesthetic impact on us: we are also influenced by how we sense sound, touch and smell at work.

“Together, the perception of all these senses help or hinder our ability to focus and concentrate. And this is particularly true of sound in the workplace,“ said Linda Trim, Director at workplace specialists Giant Leap.

“Everyone has had the unhappy experience of trying to get something important done when colleagues are making a lot of noise.

“Loud noise has definitely become one of the greatest irritants at work.

“Studies by architecture firm Perkins & Will showed how important workplace acoustics are to performance and satisfaction, and that good acoustic design equals good business.

“In 2016 it showed statistically significant changes in creativity scores associated with different acoustic conditions,” Trim notes.

Workers reported that they were more creative when office noise was masked “white” noise. A 2005 study on office noise and employee concentration by Banbury and Berry, showed that 99% of employees reported that their concentration was impaired by various types of office noise, especially telephones left ringing at vacant desks and people talking in the background.

“Interestingly researchers also found no evidence that people become used to these sounds over time. So people don’t just get accustomed to noisy offices, they are consistently bothered. And in extreme cases it can cause them to resign,” said Trim.

According to another study by Witterseh et al on the effects of noise distraction in the workplace, 68% of those surveyed become frustrated when sound levels creep just above normal conversation, and they also reported increased fatigue and difficulty in concentrating.

Says Trim: “Often the reason why background sound distracts us is because we try to work out which sound to focus on, and what sounds to ignore. If nearby speech is not relevant to your team or your work, it becomes even more distracting.”

To increase concentration and in the workplace, Trim said that companies should pay as much attention to acoustics in the office as they do aesthetics to create a productive workspace and keep employees happy.

“For example, introducing white noise in all areas will mask all conversations, so it needs to be applied strategically. Office spaces that have variety of individual, small group, and collegial areas can help the issue, especially when un-assigned seating is enforced so individuals can choose where they wanted to work according to their chaning attentional needs.”

Trim adds that increasing numbers of South Africa companies are also installing sound proof booths so people can make calls without disturbing others.

“Today there are many advanced, affordable products to be used in placing acoustics in the office such as light fittings, suspended ceilings, wall coverings and office furniture. Using materials that absorb sound is key. Carpeting, screens or walls covered in fabric, acoustical panels or drop ceilings with acoustical tiles can help neutralise sound issues,” Trim concludes.

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My Office News Ⓒ 2017 - Designed by A Collective


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