How Noise and Distractions are Killing Office Productivity – And What You Can Do To Fix It.

Is your office feeling a little too “open” lately? You’re not alone. Open floor plan layouts have become increasingly common in a wide range of industries. These environments can enable better collaboration and innovation which can help businesses stay competitive. But an open office also usually means greater distractions in the workplace.

Distractions come in all forms. Loud coworkers, impromptu brainstorms or meetings, phone calls, or even digital distractions such as mobile devices and social networking sites can all lead to lower productivity and less focus on actual work. Recently, Oxford Economics, in collaboration with Plantronics, surveyed more than 1,200 senior executives and non-executive employees from around the world on this subject. Understanding the challenges of these distractions, and how to address them, are critical to developing a collaborative environment. Some of the study’s top findings include:

  • Noise and distractions are a big source of conflict between management and employees

Employees ranked the ability to focus on work without interruptions as their top work priority, (even more important than office perks like free food or onsite day care). These employees report that noise reduces their satisfaction at work, with some seeking to block out distractions by holing up in break rooms, taking walks outside or throwing on headphones and using music to escape. Interestingly, bosses often don’t see the problem. Nearly two-thirds of executives surveyed said employees are equipped with the tools they need to deal with distractions at work; but less than half of employees agreed.

  • Millennials are more likely to say noise distracts them

While the research shows that millennial workers are not as different from their older colleagues as stereotypes suggest, younger workers did set themselves apart in one aspect: they hate noise. Millennials reported being more annoyed by ambient noise in the office and are more likely to drown out the noise in their own way, including listening to music or leaving their desks. These workers were more likely to say that blocking out distractions increases their productivity and improves their mood. Millennials are also more open to the use of technology and look to technology and personal connectivity as a means of career development.

  • Noise is an afterthought in office design

As more and more companies are shifting to an open culture environment that promotes more immediate interaction with others, increased noise and distractions is often a trade-off. When asked which factors were considered when designing their organization’s office space, executives ranked minimizing distractions far below other choices: encouraging employee interactions, improving productivity and the ever popular minimizing costs.

It’s clear that the main priority for employees at all levels is the desire to do their work, and to do it well. Good employees strive for an environment and access to the tools that will ensure they can do their job to their best ability.

Companies that are proactive about gathering and receptive to their employees’ feedback are most likely to see a more positive and fruitful work environment. To begin the process:

  • Start a dialogue between executives and employees about what is working—and what needs to change
  • Consider encouraging more flexible schedules as some people may benefit from working on certain projects from home or during times that the office is less busy
  • Make sure employees have the tools and devices they need to do their jobs anywhere – whether it’s from the office, or somewhere remote.
  • Give employees the opportunity to collaborate, but also ensure they get quiet time, spaces, and devices they need for focused work to allow them to be more productive during the work day.
  • Provide employees with the technology that will positively impact their performance – According to the Oxford Economics study, up to 90% of employees see new and emerging technologies as having a positive impact on their productivity, career, and quality of life. Employees have a variety of different needs for technology across an organization, depending on their role, duties and preferences. A recent Plantronics study on “personas” found that there are five unique personas that comprise 82% of any typical enterprise environment, meaning there are at least five different work styles that must be considered.
  • Encourage everyone—executives and employees alike—to disconnect after hours. This will ultimately lead to a more relaxed, engaged workforce and better business results for the company as a whole.

The Oxford Economics Study, “When the walls come down: How smart companies are rewriting the rules of the open workplace,” is available on For more workplace productivity solutions, please visit This post has been sponsored by Plantronics.

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