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5 Tips to Improve Open Office Productivity

Posted on Dec 21, 2015, by Michael Eckert

While open office working seems like the perfect way to encourage collaboration and improve communication between your employees, in reality, it can be a drain on staff productivity.

Today I’m sharing 5 tips to improve your employees’ productivity, without losing the benefits of open office working.

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1) Sort out the Acoustics

In an open office environment, noise is the number one problem that your employees will have to deal with. From overheard conversations, to chairs scraping on the floor, to people walking past – background noise is a constant distraction.

With no walls to block airborne sound (like conversations), or to absorb structure-borne noise (like foot traffic), your choice of flooring can have a surprising impact on office noise levels.

Cushion-backed tiles are particularly effective at absorbing structure-borne noise generated by chairs and foot traffic. Open-cell cushion-backed carpet has been shown to absorb over 50% more noise than hard-backed products, which in turn absorbs three times more noise than hard surface flooring.

Learn more: How Flooring Impacts Employee Productivity

2) Turn off Notifications

All of them. Stick your cell on silent, turn off notifications from social media, and change your email settings so you don’t get desktop notifications. Every little ping from your cellphone draws your attention away from the task at hand.

A typical office worker gets interrupted every three minutes, and it can take up to 23 minutes for them to get back on track with their original task.

In an open office, interruptions from colleagues are much more frequent than if workers have their own cubicle, or their own office. If you add to that the near-constant stream of incoming emails, texts, social media notifications and phone calls, it’s a miracle that we manage to get any work done at all!

While you can’t stop your colleagues coming over for a chat, you can minimize the distractions and interruptions that come from elsewhere.

3) Include Open and Private Spaces

While an open office space is perfect for fostering new working relationships and encouraging collaboration, it’s important to provide private spaces for employees to use when needed.

A cluster of private rooms around the edge of the open office space would be ideal. These closed-off spaces give employees a space for meetings, private phone calls, or just to work quietly for an hour away from noise and interruptions.

Providing an escape from the noise will improve your employees’ focus and boost their productivity. And if they know they’ve only got the room booked for an hour, they’ll be motivated to get the most out of that hour.

4) Work Smarter – Not Harder

In an open office it’s easy to feel like your every move is being scrutinized. Is everyone tallying up your bathroom breaks? Are people judging you for taking 47 minutes for lunch? Is 5:36 too early to leave the office?

In an environment where everyone can see what everyone else is doing, it can create the illusion that the more time you spend at the desk, the better. You must be doing way more work than everyone else, right?

Wrong. More hours doesn’t necessarily mean more work. We’ve all experienced that feeling of mental fatigue after being immersed in an important project for hours at a time. Our brains aren’t meant to focus on one single thing for eight hours straight – they need time to rejuvenate and refocus.

A 2014 experiment by time-tracking productivity app DeskTime revealed that the 10% most productive employees took regular breaks. Specifically, 17 minute breaks for every 52 minutes of work.

While that 52/17 split may not work for you, it’s clear that taking regular breaks can provide a substantial boost to your productivity. Remember to factor break times into your work day, and encourage those around you to do the same. Head to the coffee machine and chat to your colleagues, or take a walk for 10-15 minutes – and when you get back to your desk, you’ll feel refreshed and ready to tackle the next item on your to do list.

5) Get Moving

Office work is extremely sedentary, with up to 75% of the day spent seated and inactive.

Long periods of inactivity can impact employee wellbeing, which in turn will hit their productivity levels. As well as encouraging workers to take regular breaks, try and build movement into your workplace.

With a growing trend towards sit-to-stand working, and walking meetings on the rise, it’s important to consider the physical impact this will have on your employees. No doubt you’ve invested in the best ergonomic chairs and desks for seated workers, but what about when they’re standing?

It’s important to choose the right type of flooring for your sit-to-stand workspace. A cushion-backed tile can improve the comfort and wellbeing of standing workers. Open-cell cushion backing has been shown to reduce muscle fatigue by as much as 24%, and heel impact loads by up to 30%. Over the course of the working day, this translates into fewer aches and pains, and helps employees to focus on the task at hand. 

The A-Z of Health & Wellness in Interior Design

Design by Gensler. Photography © Garrett Rowland. Custom carpet by Milliken.

Topics: Health & Wellness

Michael Eckert

Written by Michael Eckert