Open-plan offices can encourage more discussion and collaboration, but when office talk turns from strategy to weekend plans, the laid-back layout may be doing more harm than good.
That is according to research by workplace experts Unispace, which found noise to be one of the main culprits hampering productivity.
More than 2,000 workers across four continents were surveyed, and while each had individual needs, distraction was a common problem.
Sam Sahni, EMEA regional principal of strategy at Unispace, says he thinks employers “profoundly underestimate” the issue of noise in the workplace and the disruptive impact it has on productivity.
“Serendipitous interaction is important,” he says, “but too much of it and you have gone backwards.”
The research found some companies overestimate the value of meetings and discussion, while underestimating the value of tasks requiring concentration.
Sahni explains that over-collaboration is a symptom of “boiling frog syndrome” – that is, it happens gradually and becomes a problem over time.
Sahni adds: “Employees working beyond walls often state a fear of missing out. Firms need to assess employee feedback on their ability to focus, the cause of distractions and other factors that will diminish productivity.”
He says many workers are trying to escape the “tyranny” of noisy workplaces by working from home or wearing noise-cancelling headphones, “both of which represent the failure of so many ill-judged designs.”
“Gains can be made by creating a balanced and considered environment that allows workers to get the job in hand done.”