Tag Archive: focus

Yet another article about the failure that is the open plan office:

Why Open Plan Offices Are Bad For Us. Bryan Borzykowski, BBC.com, examines the modern office worker’s nemesis, the open plan office. Borzykowski introduces us to Chris Nagele, a tech executive who adopted an open plan space because he thought it would encourage collaboration among his team members. But Nagele soon discovered that he made a huge mistake. Instead of a free exchange of creative ideas, Nagele found that everyone was distracted, productivity suffered, and his employees were unhappy, as was he.  And he wasn’t alone.

Borzykowski reports:

Professors at the University of Sydney found that nearly 50% of people with a completely open office floorplan, and nearly 60% of people in cubicles with low walls, are dissatisfied with their sound privacy. Only 16% of people in private offices said the same.

Sound privacy means noise.  Your neighbor’s phone call is noise to you, and your call is noise to him or her.  And in an open office, it’s possible to have lots of neighbors. No surprise then that in the U.S., where about 70% of offices are open concept, there is a growing backlash against them.  And there is research that backs up employees’ complaints.  Specifically, “that we’re 15% less productive, we have immense trouble concentrating and we’re twice as likely to get sick in open working spaces.”  That is, the reason employees hate open plan offices isn’t just a loss of status and exposure to a litany of minor nuisances. Rather, “we can’t multitask and small distractions can cause us to lose focus for upwards of 20 minutes.” That is, we can’t do our work.

In the end, the stated motivation for adopting open plan offices–to encourage collaboration–is a lie.  Many companies claim that motivation when the bottom line is that open plan offices are cheaper.  But even if encouraging collaboration really is the motivation, Borzykowski tells us that “we don’t collaborate like we think.”  Instead, he writes:

[I]t’s well documented that we rarely brainstorm brilliant ideas when we’re just shooting the breeze in a crowd. Instead, as many of us know, we’re more likely to hear about the Christmas gift a colleague is buying for a family member, or problems with your deskmate’s spouse.

So, what to do?  The obvious choice is to ditch the open plan office, but that isn’t easy to do after significant funds have been spent on a new space.  When the floor plan cannot be changed, some sort of accommodation should be made, particularly for jobs that require focus, like writing or coding.  Borzykowski reports that some companies “are experimenting with quiet rooms and closed spaces,” while others place sensors around the workspace to track noise, temperature, and population levels, allowing staff to “log on to an app [to] find the quietest spot in the room.”  Or maybe companies should bite the bullet?  According to Chris Nagele, leaving the open plan office behind resulted in his employees being happier and more productive.

Why You Need Less Noise for Work

and Your Health. Belle Cooper has written a very thoughtful piece on the problems with noise at work and play, and the importance of silence in one’s life.  On noise she writes:

Two types of everyday noise can be bad for us. One is excessive noise, such as the prolonged loud noise of being near an airport. The other is simply the distraction of general noise around us, such as conversations or interruptions from colleagues in the workplace.

The former may seem worse, but both can be detrimental to our productivity—and sanity.

Cooper lists a litany of horribles caused by exposure to chronic noise from traffic or airports, like high blood pressure, heart problems, and sleeplessness, but she also explores the effects of everyday noise on those of us not exposed to these chronic noise sources.  What is the effect on those of us who simply experience what she calls “general daily noise?”  She writes:

If you work in an open plan office, you’ll probably find [distraction and interruption] is an even greater problem. Ollie Campbell, CEO of Milanote and part of Navy Design’s multi-disciplinary team, says open plan offices come with their own implicit values. They make team members feel that disruption is acceptable, collaboration is the key priority, and serendipity is worth the interruptions it requires.

*      *      *

Distractions and interruptions are such a common part of our workdays, we don’t even think of them as excessive noise anymore. It’s often more obvious when we don’t hear the noise of distractions around us at work than when we do.. A study at the University of California, Irvine, found that knowledge workers have focus periods of just eleven minutes on average, in-between interruptions. As Campbell said, “if you need to focus, ‘work’ is pretty much the worst place you could be.”

So what can be done to reclaim some peace, to regain one’s focus and concentration?  Cooper suggests that we shut out both excessive/harmful noise as well as “the more general commotion of the modern workplace” so that we can create our best work.  And she’s armed with research that shows that silence doesn’t just relax the brain:

One study of mice found that listening to silence for two hours every day prompted the subjects’ brains to grow new cells in the hippocampus, which is related to our brain’s memory abilities. While new cell growth doesn’t always provide health benefits, in this case those new cells did become new, functioning neurons within the mice brains. In other words, silence could make you a little smarter.

Ok, perhaps that reaching a bit, but Cooper shares some anecdotal evidence that silent time helps us make better long-term decisions as well as spur creative thinking.  In the end, we can’t cocoon ourselves and block out all noise, but when we have the chance, Cooper suggests that we opt for silence.  Sounds good to us!

Laser probe lets brain surgeons identify cancer cells with sound

hospital-lab

New Scientist reports that, “[i]n recent brain operations, surgeons used a laser probe to help determine where brain tumours began and ended.”  Initially, “a signal showing whether cells were healthy or cancerous was displayed visually on a screen,” but now “this signal has been adapted into an audio one with the goal of allowing surgeons to listen for cancer as they operate and instead focus their visual attention on where they are cutting.”  New Scientist notes that this development “could lead to faster, safer and more successful brain surgery.”

Link via @QuietMark.