Is Your Office Making You Unproductive?

Having trouble focusing at work? Blame the office.

In a new study, a large design firm responsible for creating corporate offices world-wide has found that most modern workspaces, while built to foster collaboration and ties between workers, may stifle our ability to focus and get things done.


Global design firm Gensler found that companies’ attempts to provide space for staff to collaborate–  often via open-plan layouts or low cubicles–have compromised workers’ ability to concentrate. The study, which surveyed  2,035 employees at a variety of firms, found that the most effective workplaces include both quiet spaces and collaborative areas, and give employees a choice of where they’d like to work at any given time.

In one surprising finding, workers are spending more time in focus work, such as reading email or writing code, than in previous years, despite office layouts that seem more conducive to group work. The researchers say that that poorer focus may mean it takes longer to complete thought-intensive tasks.

Yet Gensler won’t go so far as to say open-plan offices hinder workers’ prospects for getting work done—though plenty of employees say exactly that. (For one, companies love them because they usually consume less real estate than traditional cubicle farms.)

Of course, even the workers lucky enough to have offices must struggle with digital distractions, says Diane Hoskins, an executive director of Gensler. Only 54% of those with private offices reported that their space is ideal for focusing effectively, while 38% of those in private offices reported that their concentration was often disturbed by others, the study found.

The study bolstered the “activity-based work” movement, which holds that employees should choose different types of work environments – desks, café-like settings, meeting rooms — based on the type of tasks they are doing.  At companies that give workers a choice of where to work, along with the tools for working remotely, employees were 12% more satisfied with their jobs than those at companies without remote-work options.

Still, even employees given the choice to work where they liked tended to spend the bulk of their time—some 70%–in the office.







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