Wednesday, November 20, 2013

How to Cope With Distractions in a Noisy Office

The popularity of open offices is growing as more companies want workers to be able to collaborate and communicate with ease.
The problem is that such open floor plans can at times resemble a frat party, Grand Central Station and the Dr. Phil show. Workers are sharing and collaborating all right – but also annoying the heck out of colleagues who are trying to get stuff done or don’t want to discuss ad nauseam the season finale of “Breaking Bad.”
Open offices also are found to be unhealthier for those who work there, bring less job satisfaction and make workers less productive. Consider this research:
  • Hong Kong Polytechnic University researchers say that sound is one of the most significant factors hurting office productivity, especially ringing phones, machines and conversation.
  • A study by The Sound Agency finds that workers are 66% less productive in open-plan offices than when left on their own to work.
  • The sound level of a noisy office with people sitting closely together can reach 80 decibels, which is bad news since a German study finds that 65 decibels is the threshold that triggers heart rate increases to heart-attack levels.
  • The Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health finds that workers in open offices had 62% more sick days reported annually than those in more cellular offices.
  • Workers can also become more stressed by constantly being called upon to help nearby colleagues. A study published in “Applied Psychology” finds that while those getting the help do perform better, those supplying the aid perform worse because they go through a cognitive overload being constantly distracted to help others and then trying to get back on task to do their own work.
So what can you do when you must function in an open office? The best way to boost your job satisfaction, health and production includes:
  • Using headphones. This is the most common strategy, but it’s more effective if you listen to instrumental music without lyrics since words can tax your brain. You can also consider a software like ChatterBlocker by The Sound Guy Inc.  that claims to block the distraction of nearby conversations by blurring recognizable speech “with a soothing blend of nature sounds, music and background chatter.”
  • Scheduling quiet blocks.  Aim for a couple of hours every day where you take your work and move to a quieter area. Let your colleagues and boss know what you’re doing and that you’re available for emergencies, but are taking (read more here)

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