Most of us no longer work on a manufacturing assembly line, or even an office environment reliant on the movement of paper between employees. Instead, the modern worker is increasingly assigned high-touch projects to be completed our own computers which require lengthy uninterrupted periods of distraction-free work. Despite this, however, our physical office environments generally still closely resemble those more appropriate for a world in which constant conversations and paper passing are an essential component of the workplace.
Unfortunately, most of us can’t simply trade out our entire office just because it’d be slightly more efficient, rather, we need to make the most of what we have. So in this article, we’ll look at five ways that an individual can make relatively minor changes in the layout of their existing workspace in order to significantly minimize workspace distractions and increase productivity.
The Need for Distraction Free Workplaces is Clear
A recent report by Oxford Economics entitled “When the Walls Come Down: How Smart Companies are Rewriting the Rules of the Open Workplace” revealed that more than obtaining workplace perks like free food or on-site daycare, what mattered most to employees was the ability to have a distraction and interruption free workspace. Of the 600 employees surveyed, fewer than half believed that they had such an environment, despite a clear majority of executives surveyed believing that their office provided such an environment. In fact, studies have shown that the average U.S. employee is distracted in their workplace nearly once every 3 minutes, while regaining optimum focus requires nearly 20 minutes. Not only does this lead to employee frustration, but according to experts, estimates put the loss of productivity at $650 billion to $1 trillion dollars each year in the U.S. alone.
Given the clear need for a distraction free workspace, here are a few tips for creating such spaces in your workplace:
- Provide Acoustic Zoning:
The number one workplace annoyance by workers under 35 was ambient noise, as opposed to visual distractions. As designer Joan Blumenfeld interior design director at Perkins+Will noted at the third annual Metropolis Magazine State of Design conference, “It’s become much more important now to acoustically zone than to visually zone. It used to be that everybody wanted solid walls and they needed their privacy. When [people] need to concentrate, that they have proper acoustic isolation, that is becoming one of the biggest issues.”
Acoustic zoning can be achieved in a number of different ways, from technological solutions such as using noise cancelling headphones, to adding individual design elements such as adding a rug to your workspace flooring or tapestry to your walls to help absorb ambient sound. And finally, this can be achieved on an office-wide level by designating certain spaces as “quiet” spaces where phone calls and conversations are disallowed.
- Eliminate Peripheral Distractions
Our human ancestors developed a very acute peripheral vision in order to detect potential predators. But unless you’re scared of a bear showing up in the office to maul you, however, that peripheral vision isn’t particularly beneficial in the context of workplace productivity.
So consider positioning your workspace so that you don’t have constant movement in your periphery (for example via a hallway or a window). This can be as simple as moving your desk, closing a hallway door, or adding a window covering, Taking this concept and incorporating it into a workspace product is the Brody Worklounge which wraps the worker’s periphery in a translucent white so there is no distraction motion in one’s peripheral vision.
- Add Live Plants to Your Visual Field
A 2014 Study by Dr. Chris Knight of Exeter University entitled “The relative benefits of green versus lean office space” found that employees are 15% more productive when a few green plants are added to an otherwise sparse work environment. “If you put an ant into a ‘lean’ jam jar, or a gorilla in a zoo into a ‘lean’ cage – they’re miserable beasties,” he said. “People in “lean” offices are no different”.
Implementing this productivity booster is not as simple, however, as adding a couple of plants to your office’s conference room. Rather, the study found that the important element was that everyone would see a plant from their desk, and not merely that plants were in the larger office environment. And because one isn’t likely to be distracted by a plant, this could even be used as a device to block an otherwise potentially distracting area in your workspace’s periphery.
- Declutter Your Work Place:
Perhaps the most obvious and straightforward workplace change one can make is to declutter one’s workspace. The belief that a decluttered workspace is a more productive workspace isn’t just a platitude, but rather has strong empirical support. Researchers at the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute in their report “Interactions of Top-Down and Bottom-Up Mechanisms in Human Visual Cortex” found that when a person’s visual field had multiple stimuli, those multiple stimuli “compete for neural representation by mutually suppressing their evoked activity throughout visual cortex” which had the effect of “limit[ing] processing capacity”. In plain English, a cluttered workspace limits your brain’s ability to process information and thus you’re less productive.
Decluttering one’s workspace can be as simple as eliminating non-essential items from your desk, finding digital substitutes for physical things (e.g. clocks or calendars), or designating a place for things that is outside the of your visual field (e.g. in a drawer). It’s not complicated.
- Place Your Desk in it’s Power Position
An important principle in Feng Shui workplace design is to place one’s desk in the “power position”. Developed more than three thousand years ago, Feng Shui is a Chinese philosophy that believes that special relationships can dictate how energies flow through an environment and positively or negatively affect those within the environment. More specifically, that when the Feng Shui is good, the person will find fortune, good luck and productivity, and when it is bad, they will not.
According to Feng Shui the desk furthest from the door creates a sense of power in the user. And with respect to an individual desk’s placement, one should see as much of the room as possible, and orient one’s desk so that it is not perfectly aligned with the doorway as this could put you into the direct current of negative energy. This diagram shows three variations on Feng Shui power position desk placement.
About the Author
Brad Martin is the Chief Marketing Officer for Soar Payments, a high risk merchant account provider that offers fully integrated payments solutions for business’ in a wide array of industries.