How to Tackle Distractions in an Open Plan Office

There is a growing worldwide trend towards work environments designed for team collaboration – open plans in place of walled-off spaces. There is a good reason for this. According to a recent study, 90 percent of workers say collaboration is essential to generating new and better ideas.

It can be challenging to design an open office that strikes the right balance between collaboration and independent work. How do you help workers navigate the many distractions of open space when they need privacy or time alone to think, rest or focus on solo work?

Gensler Research Institute recently surveyed 6,000 office workers for its 2019 U.S. Workplace Survey. The results show that 77 percent “consider the ideal work environment to fall somewhere between totally open and private.” The best workplaces, then, the study said, “are designed to accommodate both individual and focus work, along with ample open spaces that can be used for more social, collaborative, work projects.”

Tip 1:

Work using headphones and leave your desk when you can.
Not only do headphones help to drown out background noise, but they also send a “do not disturb” signal to coworkers. There is a bit of an unwritten code around earbuds: don’t distract me unless it’s really important.

Tip 2:

Make a list of tasks you need to focus on and separate from those you don’t.

Sending emails is easy enough in a distracting environment, but tasks that require more concentration such as writing, reading technical text or video editing require undivided attention.

Getting interrupted halfway through a job often means you have to retrace your steps and redo some things to get back to where you were.

Some tasks need intense concentration and others don’t. It’s important to know which is which.

Tip 3:

Shut out Digital Distractions

While email and other digital communications can be effective and convenient tools, they can be extremely distracting when you are trying to focus. Just having your phone on your desk can draw your cognitive resources, because you are anticipating a message or notification.

Phone notifications are like an alarm, they feel like they need to be attended to immediately. If someone needs you, they will call or send an email.

For maximum concentration, leave your phone on but turn off notifications and don’t leave it on your desk.

Tip 4:

Be aware of how your actions affect others

This is a team effort, here are a few pointers on making your coworkers’ lives easier.

Respect their personal space, don’t impose without their permission. Avoid eating at your desk – office odors are a common complaint. Take personal calls away from your desk. Have one-one chats with colleagues away from open work areas. Find a break-out area that won’t distract the people around you.

As distracting as an open office may be, developing a few good strategies to cope will help prevent frustration in the day to day routine.