Workplace cubicles are fading into the past; no longer do they box in our creativity or compartmentalize our freedom. Now, we have the opportunity to work more closely with our peers. The knowledge-sharing economy has upended our traditional offices in major ways. Open floor plans, long shared tables and interactive tech tools are some of the most common features in work environments.
The coworking model is meant to foster collaboration, engage learning and promote an active work culture. The trend is so popular that some startups even focus their business model on utilizing restaurants as coworking hubs during off hours.
Yet, coworking spaces come with their fair share of distractions. Several minutes of uninterrupted work time can be hard to come by, especially when you're constantly overhearing brainstorming sessions.
While open office spaces may nurture collaboration, a solution for better concentration from group activities may rely on collaboration itself. As concentration is greatly intertwined with privacy and performance, this solution focuses on three key components: office structure, individual tactics and group mentality.
Doorways to distraction
Collaborative office spaces aren't going away anytime soon. Today, nearly 70 percent of U.S. companies feature open concept offices. But, the new office design hasn't gone without its fair share of critics. In January, the BBC reported that research indicates workers are 15 percent less productive and have immense trouble concentrating in open working spaces.
In addition, University of Sydney professors found that 50 percent of people in open office floor plans were dissatisfied with their sound privacy. Other studies consistently demonstrate that over half of non-executive workers report feeling less satisfied and less productive in open space offices. In a recent survey, 58 percent of high-performing employees reported needing more privacy for problem-solving. 54 percent found their environments too distracting. It's no wonder the open office is getting a negative rapport.
Our sensitivity is not in vain either. Research demonstrates that a ringing phone can damage productivity, but small vibrations from tech devices significantly tax our brains. More worryingly, evidence shows that the mere presence of a phone weakens our concentration.
Even with so many resources available today that can help us focus, organic and traditional principles that center around workers' individual mindsets and a business's operational structure may be the true solution:
Managerial and organizational strategies
One big step for better employee concentration at work is to improve managerial and organizational strategies. Part of a manager's responsibility is to help facilitate productive interaction, which can often mean facilitating periods of concentration. Managers can help organize office rules with five key steps:
- Create designated quiet areas. Even if there is limited space, creating small areas with available resources can help promote concentration in immediate environments. According to author and productivity consultant Laura Stack, using a free conference room or offering a makeshift library where your coworkers can retreat in lieu of remote work can help preserve their privacy.
- Schedule quiet times. Specifying quiet times can help individuals do their work during the day. Each week, designate a few quiet hours, when employees are encouraged to work individually. Focus on establishing a schedule at least twice a week for 2 to 3 hours in the morning or afternoon. Afterwards, employees can collaborate as needed.
- Encourage busy signals. A "busy" symbol will notify coworkers not to disturb the worker during optimal moments of concentration.
- Batch communications. Too many emails and demands from higher-ups create frustration and constant interruptions for workers. Good managers should consider batch updates and information in one email or quick meeting so that workers and managers are clearly communicating with each other, which ultimately help save time and any confusion about work activities.
On a personal level, there are many ways to help embrace better concentration. Headphones are just the first step. Specific strategies depend on the type of task, the worker's mood, how they learn and individual personalities. For example, researcher Susan Cain's recently discovered that people who more readily identify as introverted are more sensitive to stimuli in their immediate environments.
But, according to Harvard Business Review (HBR) research, humans employ several privacy strategies - consciously and subconsciously -- to help control the intake of stimulation and information during the workday, which aid in concentration.
- Shielding is a conscious privacy tactic that allows people to gain more privacy and control over their projects by maneuvering to enclosed locations. We use it all the time when take a phone call out of the office so we might not be overheard. According to HBR, developing a walking plan may help you concentrate and solve problems away from a distracting office. Also, you should try sitting in areas where you can't see coworkers approaching.
- There is also a psychological tactic, called "intentional shielding," which allows workers to guard their own judgment by protecting their individual thoughts to develop ideas rather than sharing them outright in brainstorming sessions at the risk of peer pressure.
- Seclusion is about purposefully separating from a group, allowing workers the time to reboot and concentrate. The action is frequently chosen when workers have the opportunity to use spare rooms or other closed spaces for visual or acoustical privacy to focus on a project.
- Anonymity is a purposeful tactic that is often used by workers that often allows them to concentrate in the middle of a crowd of strangers. Because they are anonymous, they can choose when and how to concentrate. They might set up in a crowded cafe or airport. Interestingly, research published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that working in environments with moderate levels of ambient noise can improve performance on creative tasks. Ambient activity and noise can be a strategic motivator for work when individuals choose to inhabit anonymous roles, where people are less likely to distract them directly.
As a strategic process, collaboration demands both individual and group effort. Private time for focus is needed to generate ideas, process information and formulate strategies. Workers can then come together as a group to further develop a shared vision. Then, private time is further needed to focus individual tasks for the plan. If it's an especially demanding project, workers emphasize time periods of private work to think and recharge their thoughts.