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How IT departments can solve the issue of open office distractions

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/gpointstudio)

On paper, the open office should offer the freedom for spontaneous collaboration, deeper connections with co-workers, and enhanced performance. The stereotype of the “cubicle farm” is replaced by bright, welcoming, spacious work environments that offer everything from cucumber water to hammocks.

The reality however is that workers are decidedly frustrated with the functional problems that come with today’s open offices. You’re more likely to see workers getting annoyed by all the distractions that surround them than energised to by the conversations, coffee making and brainstorming that is going on around them.

This leaves organisations in a state of flux; workers love the aesthetic and vibe of the open office, but the distractions this creates is keeping them from getting stuff done. More than half of the 5,151 office workers we surveyed this year highlighted this problem. The majority prefer an open shared floor plan office (a figure that increases steadily with younger generations), but at the same time a third of respondents are always or very often distracted.

Own the open office experience

Workers are naturally going to want solutions to their day-to-day frustrations. However, it’s not always clear who has the power to change the open office for the better. Is their direct manager the best person to speak to? Are the obstructions serious enough to take to an HR manager? Is there an opportunity to speak to facilities or real estate departments about a reorganisation of the office space?

It’s a confusing network to navigate. We found that around half of workers (53 per cent) look to their direct manager to solve the problems of the open office environment, while around a third also look to HR or facilities for help.

In most cases, it’s a missed opportunity not fast tracking to the department that has the ability to enable the greatest change: IT. Technology pervades every part of a business and it’s the IT team that has the ownership of and access to the technologies and tools that can make the biggest reduction in noise-based distractions to help revolutionise the open office experience.

IT can lead the way

Creating an adaptive, collaborative, and productive office environment is an important element of digital transformation and IT is well positioned to help an organisation to realise greater focus, productivity and employee satisfaction.

The best place to start is with a holistic plan, working with cross-functional teams such as HR and facilities management to create a shared vision and strategy of how the organisation will equip people and workspaces to create a noise- and distraction-free open office that is a hive of productivity.

Creating tech-enriched open office spaces

Tech-enriched open offices hold the key to creating flexible places for the ultimate adaptive, collaborative, and productive environment. Using a wide range of technology, including noise-cancelling headsets, huddle room set ups and even biophilia sounds (where nature and technology combine), you can create a place that works for everyone.

Firstly, determine the most critical use cases in your office and focus on finding the optimal solutions for these workers. Increasingly, companies are carving out spaces for huddle rooms and small booths, equipping these with audio video and content sharing platforms. However, only 2 per cent of these spaces include equipment for video conferencing, which often results in DIY experiences such as crowding around a laptop. For optimum collaboration, high-quality audio and video experiences are a must for a new tech-enabled design strategy.

New technologies are making video collaboration easier than ever, without the need for a formal conference room set up, such as the plug-and-play Poly Studio USB soundbar. HD audio and exceptional video clarity no longer need to be confined to the boardroom, as even the smallest of spaces can bring the most professional in audio visual capabilities in a meeting.

NoiseBlock and Acoustic Fence technologies are also available to reduce or eliminate distracting noise for professional-sounding communications, while technology with automatic speaker tracking will focus on whoever is speaking within an ultra-wide 120° field of view.

For the individual, enterprise-grade headsets offer Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) features to optimise the user’s voice as well as minimise distracting noises caused by background sound, such as those in the new Poly Savi and Voyager ranges. Workers are able to work in compact, busy environments like contact centres without losing focus or having to compromise on audio quality. They also have the flexibility to join meetings from any location, whether it’s their desk, from home, on their commute or in an airport, and experience quality communications. 

Pushing the boundaries of tech enhancements

For the more visionary IT teams, open office spaces can be further optimised with acoustic management solutions that uses nature-inspired audio and visuals, coupled with intelligent software to prevent noise travelling across the office so that is easier concentrate and collaborate.

It is time organisations shift to a much more strategic approach that makes the open office space work smarter for workers to increase productivity and the bottom line.

With the right backing from decision-makers and close collaboration with other departments, IT teams have a huge opportunity to lead the way in revolutionising the open office environment, making work and collaboration effective for everyone, with technology an invisible facilitator of their everyday lives.

Paul Clark, SVP & Managing Director, Poly