STUDY: Poorly Designed Open Offices Are Sources Of Major Distraction (And Ways To Reduce It)

Open office layouts have been the dominant style for office designers for several years. While the debate continues to rage on about whether they are superior to closed offices (most likely not cease any time soon), a 2005 study examining the effects of office design on workplace distraction caught my eye.

What I appreciate most about this particular study is that it did not take any particular side, but instead identified common sources of distraction in open plan offices and possible solutions through better design.

Distraction Findings

One statistic found that for “57% of the subjects, combined background noise caused “major deterioration” in their ability to concentrate.” The major sources of distraction were:

  1. continuously ringing telephones
  2. people’s conversations (both face-to-face and telephone)
  3. printers/computer/keyboard noise
  4. outside noise

A second concept identified that employees did not grow accustomed to office noise, but rather reported more disruption the longer they were exposed to it.

Distraction Solutions

If you do find yourself or your employees becoming distracted at work (and it isn’t from reading Office Snapshots), perhaps one of the following solutions from the study will help:

  • Provide quiet areas away from noisy equipment and other people for workers who need to concentrate on tasks that require undisrupted attention (e.g., writing, mathematical tasks).
  • Incorporate absorption materials and partitioning to make background noises such as voices less distinguishable from one another.
  • Choose phones that have adjustable ringtones or that can easily be silenced when unanswered.

Other distraction reducers:

  • Don’t put a loud department that is on the phone all day next to developers that are concentrating.
  • Encourage communication that will not be a source of distraction for other employees.
  • Allow employees to listen to music with headphones.
  • Stop watching cat videos.

What have you found to help minimize distraction in an Open Plan office?