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5 tips to increase productivity in open-plan offices


November 11, 2020
2 productive workers in open-plan office

Shared workspaces have become increasingly popular among businesses. Organizations have adopted the open-plan office to reduce costs and in the hope of enhancing collaboration. Though these spaces tend to increase lighting, build camaraderie, and encourage brainstorming, they can cause significant distractions to those who prefer to operate in silence. Furthermore, recent research has shown that open-plan offices can actually reduce worker collaboration by up to 70%, not increase it! Here are five ways to help improve productivity for those employees who need a little more peace and quiet.


1. Designate Space for Phone Calls

Open floor plans can be distracting to employees who are constantly on the phone (and those who sit around them). Depending on the type of business, it can be extremely frustrating for clients to hear talking and laughing in the background. One way to mitigate this problem is by installing soundproof phone booths such as PEACEPODS. These quiet, portable workspaces allow employees to make important sales calls or join video conferences without having background noise. They come with built-in desks and power outlets, making it easy to set up a laptop and necessary documents. These effective phone booths can be purchased as a single-occupant pod or a four-person meeting space. To reduce costs and the distraction to others, employers can place these soundproof phone booths strategically around the office in a far more flexible way than traditional meeting rooms. This will ensure the use of these designated spaces for phone calls and reduce interference for those who don’t want to hear one side of a conversation.


2. Provide Other Quiet Places

Setting aside places for silence will give an alternative to those who can’t work when people are talking around them. Though headphones can be helpful, sometimes employees need a place to think or brainstorm in peace. These designated quiet places can be single-occupant rooms or multi-person sitting spaces, as long as the silence is enforced. It will be frustrating to those looking for a peaceful spot when people in the rooms are answering calls, letting their phones chime, or chatting with one another. Whether it be through developing “no talking” signage or establishing a culture of quieting people who speak in these spaces, it needs to be taken seriously for employees to feel like it is actually beneficial.


3. Allow Some Seclusion

People tend to tense up when they think they are being watched. Providing employees with some sense of privacy in an open floor plan will help them feel more comfortable settling into their space and getting their job done. One way to do this is by offering anti-glare and privacy filters for computer screens. These blockers disguise the screen when viewed from any angle other than straight on. Plants, pillars, and print stations are another way to provide coverage to some areas. Workstations can be positioned around these items to limit screen and desk exposure. This can be beneficial for those who deal with sensitive company information, such as those who work in human resources. Desks can also be positioned to face one another so one person isn’t constantly looking over the shoulder of another.


4. Have a “Do Not Disturb” System

With the lack of walls and doors, it may seem as if employees are available any time of the day to meet about a project or discuss weekend plans. This can be agitating for those who are in the middle of a “power hour” or trying to complete a presentation with a tight deadline. Establishing some type of “do not disturb” system will help employees signal to others that they do not want to be bothered. A general rule is when a person has their headphones in, they do not want to be bothered. Employees will typically message their peers using the company chatroom instead of tapping them on the shoulder and forcing them to remove their earbuds. Some companies use an LED plug that fits in a USB port and changes colour depending on availability. Red lights mean “do not disturb,” and green lights mean “I’m free to chat.” This type of software can even hook up to productivity apps, so when someone sets their status to busy, it will sync to both the LED on the outside of their computer and the system inside of their computer. It’s also reasonable to tell coworkers outright that they’ll have to come back later, though this can be challenging for those who are not assertive. No matter the type of “do not disturb” system established by a company, it needs to be clearly communicated to employees and respected up to the highest level.


5. Play Background Sound

Having neutral noise in the background helps offset the sound coming from chatting coworkers, clicking keyboards, or rolling desk chairs. Playing peaceful music allows the brain to take itself from the surrounding environment and concentrate on the task at hand. Since the mind can comprehend speech, it is likely to redirect to disruptions when it recognizes what other people are saying. It can be distracting for those who have a hard time focusing on more than one thing at once. Listening to neutral background sounds (like “elevator music”) will increase productivity for employees because it will mute the interruption of ongoing discussions. Some companies have also opted to play white noise in the background to help keep phone calls and confidential conversations more private.


Integrating one or all of these techniques can help businesses increase productivity in their open-plan offices. By using these methods, companies can enjoy the benefits of a shared workspace while keeping their employees happy.