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Time to focus

The provision of zones for private and interactive work today should be far more dependent on function and need than on status. This relies on a thorough understanding of the organisation’s needs, as well as those of the people who work for it. With research pointing loudly and clearly to the importance of offering the right level of acoustic and visual privacy when it comes to making people happier and more productive at work, it appears to be a far better solution than the traditional open-plan office.

A survey of nearly 43,000 US office workers, most cited the lack of acoustic privacy to be their biggest issue, rather than the level of noise. This contradicts the industry accepted wisdom that open-plan layout enhances communication between colleagues and improves employees’ overall work environment satisfaction. They need to be able to work with their colleagues and enjoy the benefits of interacting with each other, but there is a better balance to be struck than the one that many have right now.

To meet the need for quiet, private spaces in order for employees to concentrate and focus, a whole new generation of products have been developed. These include freestanding pods that create spaces for individual private work, as well as enclosed meeting spaces in larger configurations. Similarly, high-backed seating addresses the need for individual space as well as meeting and breakout spaces. These can be used in collaborative configurations to provide zones with a high degree of visual and acoustic privacy in even the busiest office.

Screens have long been used to break up spaces and reduce noise, but the latest generation of screens applies our growing knowledge of how people react to sound to create flexible solutions that can be adapted over time in response to changing needs.

However, it’s not just about products. The average workstation footprint has shrunk by over 25 per cent in the last few years, saving both space and money, but with the potential for counter-productive cramming. A well-designed layout will minimise sight lines and also group people sensibly. It will take account of trends such as higher occupation densities and allow for them.

Specifying quiet work rooms and breakout spaces can be essential – if properly monitored and managed – so that people can work in the right environment for the job at hand. The intelligent use of screens and partitions helps to provide the right balance of privacy and interaction.

It’s also important that the physical environment is a true reflection of an organisation’s culture, and that the goal should always be to get rid of irrelevant noise. Once again, interior design can play an important role in expressing the workplace culture. Both products and layouts can indicate to people which areas are suitable for quiet, focused
work and which lend themselves more to communication and collaboration. This encourages them to make different choices about their behaviour so that everyone benefits.

In conclusion, the collaborative habitat remains a key space within the workplace for a multitude of reasons; but by providing employees with areas where they can focus, concentrate, gain headspace, and are free from noise and other distractions, the organisation will reap the rewards in terms of a more productive, happy and engaged workforce.

About Sarah OBeirne


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