Is the open-plan office killing productivity at your company?

New research shows un-addressed issues around noise and workplace design.

A new research programme from Oxford Economics details what employees want from their work environments with noise being a big problem in the modern workplace. But most managers do not understand the extent of the issue – and productivity is suffering as a result.

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“Noise and distraction have a big impact on productivity,” said Edward Cone, deputy director of Thought Leadership and Technology Practice Lead at Oxford Economics. “These are issues that companies can address – but first they need to acknowledge the problem.”

The research, conducted in collaboration with Plantronics, included a global survey of more than 1,200 senior executives and non-manager employees across industries and functional areas, along with in-depth interviews with executives who are taking steps to deal with these challenges.

Among the key findings:

  • Workers just want to work. The ability to focus without interruptions is a top priority for employees when it comes to office design; access to amenities like free food is far less important.
  • Technology integration is a work in progress. Employees are expected to be connected to the office all the time – but only 40 per cent say the devices they use at home integrate seamlessly with their work tools.
  • Constant connectivity breeds compulsive behaviour and could lead to burnout. More than one-third of employees say they use their tech devices primarily out of habit or compulsion, fear of missing out, or social pressure.
  • The boss does not see the problems. Nearly two-thirds of executives say employees are equipped with the tools they need to deal with distractions at work; less than half of employees agree.

Some organisations are already getting it right. One group of executive respondents in the survey reported more business value from technology than their peers, in terms of employee productivity and even bottom-line performance. These companies are also more likely to have taken specific steps to equip employees with the right working environment, tools, and culture.


Debbie Carter

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