Is Your Office Distracting Your Team? Here's What To Do About It

Jul 2, 2018


The performance of your business depends on how well your team can use their time and focus their energy. If employees are able to think deeply and clearly, they’re more likely to achieve outcomes that matter.

Yet most workplaces aren’t set up to help employees achieve sustained attention to the task at hand. Instead, the office environment is often distracting, and promotes a culture that prioritises speed over substance.

Is Your Team Busy or Purposeful?

For employees, it can already be stressful trying to balance competing demands such as attending meetings, responding to clients, training, managing a daily to-do list, as well as making meaningful strides towards large projects or planning work.

Global consultancy Deloitte has highlighted the 'overwhelmed employee' trend—the result of an ‘always-on’ business culture where every email feels urgent, which actually undermines productivity.

Drawing on the views of more than 2,500 business and HR leaders, Deloitte discovered that, "...employees buy into corporate cultures which view "'being busy' as a badge of honour", confusing success with activity rather than insight, and thus reinforcing the overwhelmed employee cycle."

An office space that fails to minimise distractions can feed into and compound the risk of employees feeling overwhelmed, which can make a significant impact on productivity and morale.

Distraction is costing your business

Interruptions to a person’s flow come from many sources: mobile phones, social media, meetings, chatty co-workers, unplanned phone calls, technology glitches, emails and other digital notifications.

A global survey of workers on workplace design found some of the key factors that led to inefficiency at work were noise, lack of privacy and temperature and air quality.

When online learning company Udemy surveyed more than 1,000 US office workers, they found 50 percent believed that workplace distraction made them significantly less productive, and 34 percent said it made them like their jobs less.

Respondents agreed that reducing workplace distraction makes them more productive (75 percent), motivated (57 percent) and more confident in their ability to do a good job (51 percent).

Make a conscious choice to improve focus

Social scientist Joseph Grenny wrote in an article for Harvard Business Review that modern office distractions often affect us on a subliminal level that we feel powerless to control.

"Persistent interruptions become especially insidious when we are unaware of the powerful role our surroundings play in shaping our thoughts, moods, and choices. I call this being environmentally unconscious." Grenny said.

It’s in employers best interests to create a work environment that is more conducive to paying attention. That might include changes in work practices or management approaches—for instance some offices have ‘email-free’ days.

But given the difficulty many of us have in recognising and controlling our emotional reactions when faced with interruptions, employers should invest more in making the physical work space more calming and energising.

Is nature the missing link?

Think carefully about how the actual design, materials, and decor of your office might affect workers’ state of mind.

The benefits of encouraging collaboration between colleagues means many offices now favour an open plan layout. But while cross-pollination and socialising between team mates is valuable, you need to balance that with features that promote calm and cultivate concentration.

A recent report produced distributed by Planet Ark’s Make It Wood on the relationship between workplace productivity, wellbeing and wood, found that when workers are surrounded by natural elements—like plants, natural light and air, water features, views and wooden surfaces—they perform better at work.

Through a large-scale survey of Australian employees, the report revealed that the greater the exposure to wood in the office the higher people rate their personal productivity, ability to concentrate and overall mood.

In fact, the more natural-looking wooden surfaces a worker is exposed to, the more likely they are to respond positively to statements like, 'I've been dealing with problems well', 'I've been thinking clearly' and 'I've been feeling relaxed'.

The report's authors state, "On average workers who are very satisfied with their physical workplace take four less sick days per year compared to those who are very dissatisfied.

"Given the relationship between workplace satisfaction and productivity, creating worker friendly environments can have a potentially significant economic benefit."

Installing a beautiful wooden feature wall, more from sustainably sourced timber furniture and more potted plants could lead to your team taking fewer sick days, feeling more optimistic and bringing greater clarity to your biggest business problems.

Deep benefits from natural connection

Distraction is a real and present threat to business success and building a happy workforce.

However when your team has the right environment for doing ‘deep work’ rather than busy work, it’s more likely they’ll complete impactful projects that help you achieve high-level business goals. And when workers can achieve more, they also feel more satisfied.

Creating a connection to nature through design is a highly effective yet often overlooked way to create a more focused, positive and engaged workforce.