Coping with Distraction in Today’s Office Environments

When it comes to maintaining good relationships with co-workers, there are some things we just don’t want to know. Unfortunately, more than nine out of ten office workers have overheard co-workers’ personal conversations and phone calls, and a surprising 71% have seen co-workers viewing websites they shouldn’t be visiting, according to Staples Business Advantage Workplace Employee Survey.

Such distractions are symptomatic of today’s open office environments, where, it appears, workers get the best and the worst of each other. On one hand, most people find these environments more engaging and collaborative. On the other, distraction is widely experienced – a surprising 81% report that they work in high traffic areas.

Employees cope in various ways. 45% have gone outside the office to take or make a phone call and 28% have worn headphones to block out noise from others. Many abandon the office altogether – 57% of those who work outside the office say they sometimes do so because it removes the distractions of the office.

Interestingly, employees don’t just blame the physical environment. Less than one-quarter of respondents placed “private or personal space” in the top-three of their wish list, ranking it along with “new technology or equipment”, “ergonomic furniture”, “a fitness centre”, and “food and drink options”.

Furthermore, some of the most frequently reported distractions result from questionable co-worker behaviour, such as having to work near somebody who is visibly or audibly sick (81%), is eating something that smells bad (77%), or has a radio or TV playing loudly (69%).

While changing the physical environment is no substitute for respectful conduct in the office, planners need to consider where optimization of office space can help. Would personal calls be made within earshot of others if there was a private phone cubicle available? Are people eating at their desks because the lunch room is inadequate? Would taking a break in a wellness room alleviate the stress of a high traffic environment?

As the office evolves to meet today’s diverse needs, these are the kinds of questions office planners need to ask.


To download the full report of the 2018  Employee Workplace Survey visit:

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