Optimizing Office Environment for Increased Productivity and Collaboration

Beau Wilder, VP of Innovation Waves and New Products, Plantronics
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Beau Wilder, VP of Innovation Waves and New Products, Plantronics

Open offices have become a popular choice for many companies. While there are many benefits to this arrangement, particularly enabling better collaboration and saving money, it can result in bad acoustics—whether a loud space or an uncomfortably quiet one—that leads todistraction and irritation for the workers.

 A recent Oxford Economics survey of 1,200 global employees and executives, commissioned by Plantronics,found that noise and distraction are hidden sources of conflict in the workplace. Employees ranked the ability to focus on work without interruptions as their top priority–more important than perks like free food or onsite daycare. And, less than half said they were well-equipped to handle distractions at work.

 This is a unique challenge that requires more than just a one-size-fits-all IT approach. While tools such as headsets do help a great deal, business leaders should also think holistically about factors such as office design and acoustics in order to increase productivity and overall comfort. This is a situation where managers need to take an integrated approach to modifying the office space, using all techniques available to create an optimal acoustic environment. The goal is to create a smart, adaptive space that enhances the experience of each person who works there, while still meeting the needs of the enterprise.

Workplace noise is a reality that needs to be managed. Designers can reduce noise with things like acoustic paneling, but sometimes a space can be too quiet, which is just as bad as too noisy. The real problem is the intelligibility of speech. As humans, we are focused on speech around us–but when it’s unintelligible, it doesn’t bother us. For example, some of us might say it’s too quiet to work in a library, but we can work in a coffee shop with ambient noise.

SOLVING THE NOISE PROBLEM

To mitigate the office noise problem, and help your people stay comfortable, focused and productive, start with these simple solutions to minimize disruption and maximize concentration.

  ​While it may seem counter-intuitive, scientists have found that adding noise to the work environment can be an effective way to reduce disruption 

• Separate your areas. Designate specific areas for loud activities, such as meeting, eating, and making copies. Then, designate other areas for quiet, where people can do focused work.

• Soak it up. Put sound-absorbing furniture and other acoustic elements like ceiling and wall tiles around your space to absorb sound waves.

• Create personal acoustic environments. Stereo headsets and other wearable technologies can help people block out ambient noise around them without contributing additional noise. They can also improve audio for phone calls, so people don’t have to raise their voices to be heard.

While it may seem counter-intuitive, scientists have found that adding noise to the work environment can be an effective way to reduce disruption. The right continuous, ambient sounds mask speech and reduce disturbance. But some sounds work better than others. Natural or "biophilic” sounds can take advantage of our innate preference for natural things, such as natural light and living plants. Experts have found that certain sounds of rain and rushing water can deliver benefits such asrelieving stress and promoting calm.

We found that the key to setting workers up for success means empowering them wherever, whenever, and however they are most productive. This requires foregoing a ”business as usual” approach to IT and developing a personalized approach that takes into account changing workplace environments, individual behaviors, and unique relationships to technology. By giving professionals the tools, environment, and freedom to contribute to the company’s success, this contributes to bottom-line performance.

Setting workers up for success with audiovisual technology means understanding the ways we all work today, which are more diverse than ever. When organizations understand these trends and focus on optimizing their people, places and technology, they unlock profitability and potential.

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